Funeral parlours battle to keep bodies from decaying due to load shedding

File photo. Cold storage chamber for cadavers. Picture: Chris Collingridge

File photo. Cold storage chamber for cadavers. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Published Sep 29, 2022


Johannesburg - Load shedding has hit the funeral parlour industry very hard, as business owners battle to keep bodies from decaying. To ensure the preservation of human remains, cold storage facilities need to be kept at temperatures of below minus five degrees Celsius.

As with most businesses, load shedding has had a negative impact on the daily operations of funeral parlours as the intermittent blackouts continue to plague South Africa.

One of the core functions of a funeral parlour is the cold storage of human remains of the deceased in order to preserve the body until such time it is ready to be buried. This is proving to be extremely difficult and expensive for business owners.

While industry regulations require all funeral parlours that have mortuaries on their premises to have a backup generator, it has become increasingly more expensive to keep generators running due to the sheer amount of time in a day the power supply from Eskom is unavailable.

Speaking to Kaya FM, the chairperson of the Southern African Chamber of Undertakers, Nhlanhla Bembe, described the situation as dire and becoming increasingly untenable.

He said: “It has been costly storing human remains. As the regulations of the country say, ‘if you have got a mortuary, you need a backup generator’, but now it is no longer a backup generator anymore. It is what we use to power the cold room now because the blackouts are constant and longer.”

“So, it has become too, too expensive to store human remains as we all know petrol and diesel are expensive.”

Bembe indicated that some members spend about R700 a day on powering their cold rooms in an effort to preserve human remains, highlighting the obviously catastrophic consequences their failure to do so would result in.

He bemoaned the lack of government support for their businesses.

“It is tough as tough as it is for hospitals, it is tough for the industry. Unfortunately, we are a forgotten industry. The government doesn’t fund us, and it’s really tough, and most of us are small businesses,” said Bembe.

National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa National Chairperson Nathi Khumalo echoed Bembe’s sentiments about the negative effect of load shedding on their members' businesses and the lack of support from the government.

“This situation has hit us hard, but we are doing all we can to ensure that we give our customers the best service possible. Whenever the power goes out, we try to get as much manpower on the ground as possible to ensure operations are not interrupted,” said Khumalo.

He went on to highlight the administrative difficulties they also experienced as a result of the power cuts.

“We are finding it difficult to get support from home affairs as well. Home affairs offices do not have backup generators either, and so, when there are power outages, they cannot make and release death certificates to the family’s timeously, which does not reflect well on us as business people.”

“This is how you end up hearing the public criticising black small business owners, and it isn’t fair because it has a direct effect on our ability to earn a living,” Khumalo added.

Morongwa Molefe, the secretary-general of the Funeral Industry Practitioners, says some funeral parlours need to improvise to make sure that they are able to preserve the bodies in their care.

“Some are using shared storage where they keep their bodies in other mortuaries, and then they contribute towards the cost of keeping the generators running,’’ said Molefe.

There is no indication as to when load shedding will abate. Eskom has indicated that the country will remain on stage 4 load shedding until further notice.

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