File photo: Boris Heger

Durban - A pregnant Durban woman knew that saying a final goodbye to her late mother would be traumatic, but she never expected her distraught family would end up burying her themselves, using bare hands and makeshift shovels.

“It was very upsetting. Yes, I was crying more than I would have been because my family had to fill the grave themselves as there were no gravediggers,” said Rosa Moonsamy, 24, of Overport.

She is five months pregnant with her first child.

“We were worried it was going to rain and we did not want to leave mom exposed,” she said on Thursday.

The drama unfolded at the eThekwini municipality’s Kennilworth Cemetery in Overport on Saturday, when the grieving family of Yanam Pillay arrived to bury the 60-year-old mother. She died from cancer last Wednesday.

After a service at the David Landau Community Hall in Asherville, the family, including widower Morris Pillay, converged on a family plot at the cemetery.

The funeral parlour carried the coffin to the gravesite and lowered it into the grave.

“The gravediggers were supposed to be present then, but they were nowhere to be seen,” said Moonsamy. “We did not know if the gravediggers would turn up and I wondered if they had forgotten about us. People were distressed.

“There was no caretaker who we could turn to for help and we did not have an emergency contact number of anyone at the municipality,” she said.

“It was late and it looked like it was going to rain. I was worried. Some mourners could not wait any longer and left and there were about 10 family members remaining who gathered around the open grave. We did a small prayer. Eventually, some of the men decided that they would just have to fill the grave themselves as we could not leave it as it was.”

Then the frantic search for tools began.

Someone popped across the road to a complete stranger’s home to borrow a spade, but the homeowner did not have one.

“We managed to find some wooden tomato boxes and used the planks to shovel the red soil on to the coffin. Some people used their bare hands,” Moonsamy recalled.

Then Moonsamy’s husband, Pruvashlin, and her brother, Nico, drove to a relative’s home five minutes away to borrow a spade.

“I would have helped if I was not pregnant. It was hard for me watching what the others were doing and not being able to help bury my mom,” she said.

Some 45 minutes later, two gravediggers and supervisor Beatrice Kunene appeared, but by then the grave was almost covered.

“Kunene apologised to us, explaining that there had been four burials that day; that they were short-staffed and there were just two people working on Saturday.”

But Moonsamy said the city would have known how many burials had been booked and should have ensured there were sufficient gravediggers available. She plans to complain to the municipality.

“It is ridiculous. If this had happened during normal working hours in the week, we might have been able to locate someone in an office somewhere, but we did not know who to contact at the weekend,” Moonsamy said.

“When people are laid to rest, it should be in a dignified way as it is the last memory you have of caring for them.”

Kunene could not be reached for comment yesterday and the municipality did not respond to e-mailed questions.

Daily News