Siviwe Mhlomi, the director of Uviwe Funeral Services and Thabo Petrus Klip, working for Mguda Funeral Services, moving coffins around the funeral parlour in Airport Industrial. Photographer: Armand Hough African News Agency(ANA)
Siviwe Mhlomi, the director of Uviwe Funeral Services and Thabo Petrus Klip, working for Mguda Funeral Services, moving coffins around the funeral parlour in Airport Industrial. Photographer: Armand Hough African News Agency(ANA)

Funeral undertakers in Western Cape experiencing coffin shortage due to Covid-19 deaths

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Jan 20, 2021

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Cape Town - Funeral undertakers in the Western Cape are experiencing a shortage of coffins and are struggling to keep up with the demand due to the rise in Covid-19 deaths.

Community services and health mayco member Zahid Badroodien said in the past week, City of Cape Town cemeteries had facilitated 696 burials of which 173 were confirmed Covid-19 burials. Community services and health mayco member Zahid Badroodien said, in the past week, the City of Cape Town cemeteries had facilitated 696 burials, of which 173 were confirmed Covid-19 burials.

“Of these burials, 198 took place at Maitland Cemetery, 134 at Welmoed and 124 at Klip Road Cemetery, in Grassy Park,“he said.

Deo Gloria Funeral Services director Kenny McDillon said the shortage of coffins was dire.

“We had the seasonal closure of coffin manufacturing plants over the festive holidays. We also relied on suppliers who trucked in coffins from other provinces,” said McDillon.

These caused the delays, with the factories not filling up their warehouses in Cape Town,” said McDillon.

He said the few coffin manufacturers were not able to completely meet the demand from undertakers.

Siviwe Mhlomi, director of Uviwe Funeral Services, a funeral parlour based in Khayelitsha, said he had been in the business for at least 13 years, servicing the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, but had never seen such a demand for coffins and caskets.

Mhlomi said what made the demand look far greater, was the shortage of supply.

He said there were four big suppliers in Cape Town and most of the supply companies were inundated with orders – but the materials were either abroad or not available, reducing the supply and increasing the demand even further.

Siviwe Mhlomi, the director of Uviwe Funeral Services and Thabo Petrus, working for Mguda Funeral Services, move coffins around the funeral parlour in Airport Industrial. Photographer: Armand Hough African News Agency(ANA)

“This is not sitting well with us, as undertakers, because families end up taking what is in front of their eyes because they cannot get what they wanted,” said Mhlomi.

SA Funeral Practitioners’ Association national spokesperson Vuyo Mabindisa said the industry was facing a shortage of coffins and that despite them ordering in advance, the number of bodies always exceeded the number of coffins available.

Mabindisa said they were now considering purchasing coffins from neighbouring countries. He also said they were concerned about the delay in the issuing of death certificates, particularly in the Western Cape, where hospitals were delaying the paperwork.

The GNG Group, one of the companies with multiple branches across the country supplying coffins, caskets and domes to the funeral parlours, said they manufactured as much as they possibly could.

Emergency Medical and Forensic Pathology Services spokesperson Deanna Bessick said there were sufficient structures and plans in place to manage Covid-19 deceased, “as these are natural deaths and not admitted to the forensic pathology services (FPS)”.

Badroodien said Cape Town remained a hot spot, but the good news was that they were seeing a decrease in the number of new cases and admissions to hospitals. Although the numbers were still high, admissions were easing.

Badroodien said that slow decline in cases was seen across all sub-districts. However, he said they had not yet seen a decrease in the number of burials at cemeteries and while non-compliance was rife in many instances, they had to commend the many funeral undertakers who were doing their part to ensure adherence to regulations.

“As the case load diminishes, the burial figure should show a similar trend in the weeks to come.”

Cape Argus

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