Buhle Bhengu, 29, died in the Caribbean island last month. She had been working as a bartender on an MSC cruise ship at the time.
On the family’s first visit to the island, only one relative was allowed to view her body, through glass and only her face was visible.
The family was then told the body could not be sent back to South Africa for fear she had died of an infectious disease.
The National Funeral Practitioners Association of SA said amid attempts to recover the body, they were told the Bahamian government had done a U-turn.
“The story has been changing every day. At first the government refused repatriation. After negotiations, they said America did not want the body flown through its borders. While we were consulting the UK, the US agreed to the process.
“The last straw was when the Bahamian government made a sudden change, saying they had no qualified personnel to provide a zinc-lined coffin. Even though we said we were qualified to provide this, they stuck to their decision to cremate the body,” said Muzi Hlengwa, the association’s president.
He said under regulations imposed by the International Air Transport Association, coffins must be lined with zinc to create a hermetic seal. Zinc is used because it does not prevent checks by X-ray machines, a necessary part of airline security.
“There’s a lot that doesn’t hold water in this case and we will make sure that all is revealed at the right time. Yesterday we accompanied the family to the home affairs department to sort out their passports. With the assistance of Jackson Mthembu in his capacity as an MP and the office of the Home Affairs minister, we hope the process will be quick. Once the family returns from the island, we will be on MSC’s case,” Hlengwa said.
International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu yesterday confirmed that only Bhengu’s ashes would return home.
“The family travelled to the Bahamas to view the body and agreed to the body being cremated,” she said.
She extended her gratitude to the Bhengu family for their understanding that their daughter could not be repatriated due to international health standards to which both South Africa and the Bahamas subscribe.
However, the Bhengu family, said they were left with no choice.
“We had hoped to have our sister back home and be able to bury her with dignity. We had not agreed to anything as a family. We’re now going through a hard time and feel that by them pushing for the cremation, they must be hiding something.
“We are not satisfied. Her soul can’t leave; it’s still next to her body. We will talk to her as a family and Africans and if need be, we will have to wash her. That’s all we can do in this situation,” said Bhengu’s sister Mbali.
International Relations spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya could not be reached for comment.
MSC managing director Ross Volk was asked about the possibility of this not being an isolated case, and whether there had been incidents of abuse, physical or sexual, or ill-treatment of employees (especially women) on their cruise ships.
“These questions require a high level of disclosure of information subject to personal and medical privacy. Out of respect for our deceased colleague and her family, and to respect their privacy, we are unable to disclose any further details. As soon as we became aware she had passed away, we worked closely with the competent authorities in the Bahamas to facilitate any applicable procedures and provided support to her family throughout the process.
“We arranged flights for some close family members to grieve her loss and pay their respects,” he said.