Durban - A mortuary strike has rubbed salt in the wounds of grieving families who have been unable to collect the bodies of their loved ones and thrown funeral arrangements into disarray.
“The state is holding us to ransom. We should be mourning with my sister, not sitting inside because of internal politics,” said Raymond Naidoo, of Isipingo, whose family had to postpone the funeral of his nephew, Wayne Govender.
While some mourners had travelled from as far as Johannesburg and Limpopo, others were anxiously waiting for news of when the ceremony would actually be held before leaving their jobs and businesses to make the journey.
Another family member, Clayton Pillai, asked: “Where is the respect? Are we not citizens who pay our taxesand don’t they (striking workers and Department of Health management) have loved ones too?”
Govender’s funeral had been scheduled for 4pm on Friday.
His body was eventually released from the mortuary in Magwaza Maphalala (Gale) Street at noon, but it was too late to go ahead with the arrangements.
According to a source with a watchful eye on happenings at the mortuary, staff resumed work yesterday afternoon, pending discussions with striking workers, and post-mortems resumed on a backlog of 45 bodies.
The source said he believed the department might not have the cash flow for the promised payments.
Another uncle of Govender’s, Krishna Naidoo, said a post-mortem had not been required because he had died of natural causes, and been pronounced dead on arrival at eManzimtoti’s Kings-way Hospital.
Two mortuary workers, who did not wish to be named, said they had been assured they would be paid last month for overtime work in December, but the provincial Department of Health had not kept its word.
However, Halatisani Gumede, provincial secretary of the Public and Allied Workers’ Union of SA, said the strike was over workers being underpaid and having to work in unsafe conditions.
“The Department of Health is running away from taking responsibility,” he said, warning that the union was planning a march.
“We have been trying to liaise, but they have not been responsive. It is very traumatising for people, but now we are forced to strike.”
Gumede added that mortuaries across the province were affected to varying degrees, depending on whether staff complied with the strike.
The two workers said the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union was also involved, but the organisation could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, a Muslim family from Shallcross feared the delay in burying Siddeeq Abdul could land them in breech of Islamic rules.
“We should bury on the same day,” said his brother, Rishaad.
Abdul died in Addington Hospital on Wednesday.
“We are not interested in government politics. The body belongs to the family,” he said.
Ahmed Paruk, chairman of the Islamic Burial Council who helped negotiate with mortuary authorities, said last night that Abdul’s body had been released for his funeral.
The Cele family has had similar frustrations, waiting for the release of Bongiwe Cele’s body. A funeral was scheduled for today at Izingolweni on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.
“I am frustrated and stressed. Why does someone have to go through this? This is another pain. The family is so worried back home,” said her daughter, Thembelihle Cele.
She sympathised with the strikers, “but it’s the people in management not doing their job”, she said.
Thembelihle said her mother died last Friday after surgery in King Edward VIII Hospital. She said she identified her body on Tuesday, expecting to fetch it on Wednesday.
Mourners had already come from East London and Cape Town.
She had been trying to contact the office of MEC Sibongiseni Dlomo, and managed to speak to his personal assistant. Late on Friday, she said the body had been released.
Spokesperson for the KZN Department of Health Ncumisa Mafunda said: “The workers who had earlier disrupted normal operations at the Magwaza Maphalala Medico-Legal Mortuary resumed their duties following consultations between organised labour and the department.
“Their labour union, Nehawu, gave them an ultimatum to go back to work.
“All autopsies on mortal remains that were due to be buried this weekend have been completed, and funerals should go ahead as planned. Senior officials from the KZN Department of Health are currently in a meeting with Nehawu to seek solutions to the grievances raised by the workers.”