Durban - Health workers say they watched in terror this week as family members stormed the Phoenix mortuary and demanded that bodies of their loves ones, some that have been there for more than two years, be released.
And they have warned that if another disaster hits Durban there won’t be any space for more bodies.
The Independent on Saturday was told that this week that aggrieved family members even entered the area where autopsies were under way.
A mortuary worker relaying accounts of the incidents asked to remain anonymous because two other staff members were recently suspended for complaining about the poor working conditions.
The worker said the public’s anger took a twist yesterday when about 40 people, some armed with baseball bats, again forcefully entered the state’s medico-legal mortuary and blamed staff for the lengthy delay in handing over the bodies.
“I fear for my safety. It’s almost as if the health department is waiting for something to happen before they do anything about the situation.”
The mortuary workers said they were severely understaffed and were expected to work long hours, including weekends and public holidays, even when threatened.
“We fear for the safety of all staff because they are being blamed for all the problems here but we are not at fault.”
Last week the Independent on Saturday reported that political parties had called for a full investigation into the fly-infested mortuary where dozens of smelling corpses had been piling upon the floor.
Some of the bodies in the mortuary are victims of the violence that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng last year, as well those who had perished in the deadly floods in KZN earlier this year.
At the time the health workers union Nehawu said their members were not given protective equipment, rotting corpses were dumped on the floor because the fridges were full and that the mortuary had not been cleaned in a long time because there were no chemicals.
Nehawu’s Durban regional secretary Prince Mathalane said there was a huge police presence at the mortuary when they arrived there yesterday to hand over a memorandum of demands to the department.
“Our biggest demand is the reopening of the Gale Street mortuary,” said Mathalane.
He said that had been the main mortuary with the biggest capacity and instead of resolving the problems there, the department had closed it two years ago and placed the burden on smaller mortuaries.
“There is no space in Durban, that’s the reason why the bodies are on the floor. If we have another disaster like the floods or unrest, we won’t manage because there won’t be space,” Mathalane said.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Nqobile Gwala confirmed that there had been a protest at Phoenix mortuary yesterday. “No one was arrested and no case was opened. The crowd dispersed peacefully,” she said.
The Health Department could not be reached for comment yesterday but last week it said that a number of resolutions had been taken to resolve the problems.
The Independent on Saturday