TRADITIONAL leaders in KwaZulu-Natal have raised concerns over incidents of bodies being swopped at funeral parlours, which has led to a number of bereaved families collecting, cremating and burying strangers Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
TRADITIONAL leaders in KwaZulu-Natal have raised concerns over incidents of bodies being swopped at funeral parlours, which has led to a number of bereaved families collecting, cremating and burying strangers Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

KZN traditional leaders express concern over body swopping at funeral parlours

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published Jan 25, 2021

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Durban – TRADITIONAL leaders in KwaZulu-Natal have raised concerns over incidents of bodies being swopped at funeral parlours, which has led to a number of bereaved families collecting, cremating and burying strangers.

This comes after at least two incidents last week, where families had been given the wrong bodies to bury by funeral parlours. The mix-ups appear to be happening because of the strict Covid-19 protocols regarding how funeral parlours deal with cases where people have died of Covid-19. In these cases, families are not allowed to view their loved ones.

The KZN Provincial House of Traditional Leaders, led by Inkosi Phathisizwe Chiliza, called on stakeholders in the funeral services industry to ensure incidents of bodies being swopped did not occur.

Chiliza said traditional leaders were aware of the protocols that had to be followed by funeral service providers, with regards to the handling of the bodies of people who had died of Covid-19 complications.

“As traditional leaders, we fully understand that funeral service providers are working under immense pressure, as bodies continue to pile up at their facilities. We are also aware that they have to follow certain protocols in handling the bodies of people who died due to Covid-19 complications.

“We, however, feel that funeral service providers should work hand-in-hand with bereaved families to ensure the identification of bodies before their collection,” said Chiliza.

The leaders also said incidents of bodies being swopped was traumatising for bereaved families who also had to incur additional financial costs.

“When bereaved families in our communities discover that they have buried bodies of strangers, they soon go through a costly and rigorous process of correcting the wrongs that would have taken place,” he said.

University of KwaZulu-Natal traditional and cultural expert Dr Nokukhanya Ngcobo said it was wrong not to allow even one family member to view and confirm the body of the deceased.

Ngcobo said some families had been lucky to at least find they had been given the wrong body. However, many had gone as far as burying the wrong bodies.

“To bury a person traditionally is not just to dig a hole and put them in. There are a lot of processes and traditional rituals that are done,” said Ngcobo. She described the experience as devastating and traumatising for families who had already gone as far as burying the wrong body.

The family would now have to exhume the body, do rituals to apologise to the ancestors for burying the wrong person, and redo the process of burying the correct body.

“Waking up the following day of the week, and being told that you buried the wrong person is just traumatic. It’s a waste of time and a lot of money which the government won’t pay back.”

National Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said the incidents of the wrong bodies being given to families had not been brought to the attention of the National Department of Health.

“It will help if you were to provide detailed information on this so that we can investigate with the provinces where this has happened. If this is a fact, it is unfortunate and unacceptable,” he said.

Maja said it was standard practice that bereaved families be allowed to positively identify the deceased.

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