PICTURE: GCINA NDWALANE
Durban - Battling with the untimely death of their father, the Khumalo family from Henley Dam outside Pietermaritzburg have had to wait for almost two weeks for his body to be released from the Fort Napier mortuary. 

They are one of scores of families in KwaZulu-Natal that have been caught in the battle between the Department of Health and its employees.

Workers at the mortuary have been on a go-slow since last week, performing a fraction of the number of autopsies they normally perform.

Ten autopsies are done in Fort Napier per day, but since the strike, this has dropped to two and 29 bodies are in the queue.

Nkosi Khumalo, whose father died in a fire accident, brought the body to the government mortuary for an autopsy.

“We were not even aware there was a strike, it’s coming to two weeks. But even now there is still no hope that we will be able to bury him because his body is still not ready.

“I am stuck, my family responsibility leave is finished, but I am the eldest in the family so I cannot leave home before the funeral and go back to work in Johannesburg.

“We plead with the government, we are already in pain because we have lost our loved ones, there is no need to worsen that pain by denying us the right to bury them according to our culture,” said Khumalo.

The National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), which has called for the sacking of Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has accused him of failing to deliver, adding that protests had expanded to other mortuaries in the province.

These include Park Rynie, Port Shepstone, Gale Street, Pinetown, Scottsburg, Ixopo, Richmond, Mooi River and Greytown.

A source at the Park Rynie Forensics office, who declined to be named, said the biggest impact will be felt this coming weekend as families come to collect their bodies.

“Normally four autopsies are done here, but now we are doing one a day. There are more than nine bodies here and at this rate, families will have a problem at the end of the week,” said the source.

The source said in Pinetown, two autopsies are done each day while in Port Shepstone workers called in sick.

Zimasile Giyama from Nehawu said they want Dhlomo out as he has failed to address the department’s challenges.

He said the Fort Napier mortuary was in a terrible state, saying fridges were broken leading to bodies decomposing.

“We have started with the forensics, we will now expand the strike to the ambulances and the hospitals. We can no longer tolerate Dhlomo in that department, we want him gone,” he said.

The Health Department said in a statement it was investigating threats to destabilise other mortuaries, adding that workers’ concerns were being dealt with.

The department said it had measures in place to prevent the accumulation of bodies, should staff continue with the protest.

The Mercury