Family tussle over body

Tongue lashing for shocking treatment of would-be asylum seeker. Picture: Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels

Tongue lashing for shocking treatment of would-be asylum seeker. Picture: Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels

Published Jun 4, 2024


Having to decide a family feud over the body of a father and husband, a judge said he hoped that the family would find peace in the tragic situation and remember their strength in one another as a whole.

The widow and her son came to loggerheads about who should bury him, as both wanted to resume the responsibility but at different locations.

As they could not see eye to eye and the body could no longer remain in the morgue, the widows turned to the Eastern Cape High Court, sitting in Bisho, for an order that she could resume the burial duties.

The body remained unburied since March, until the court spoke the last word.

The woman and man were married in 1979 and had four children. He had been mostly itinerant, given the country’s discriminatory laws at the time.

This caused a strain on the marriage and the upbringing of their children, but the couple endured in their lawful union.

The husband last disappeared from home from 2014 to 2021 when he was found in Idutywa working as a cattle herder/shepherd. He was frail. The family endeavoured to bring him home but he expressed the desire to live with the first respondent, his son, at his home in Hanover.

The wife noted the development as a mere practicality and pointed out that the arrangement was felicitous because the son was a man of means compared to the rest of the family.

This is how the man lived out the remaining few years of his life.

In March, he was admitted to the Bisho Hospital where he died.

The widow told the court that for the period that her husband lived with the son, it had not been an exclusionary arrangement. She and the rest of the family had enjoyed visitation rights until his death and “there existed a harmonious relationship with the family”.

It was only after the man’s death that the notion had arisen from the son that his father had expressed the desire to be buried in Hanover “versus where everyone else in the family expresses that he ought to be buried in his ancestral home” at Mooi Plaas.

The widow said the ancestral home had been her husband’s childhood homestead and a place where significant family events had taken place (each of the couple’s sons have, for example, celebrated their cultural initiations there and the applicant and the deceased had been married at the home). It had also been where her husband had expressed to her a desire to be buried.

The son had commenced burial preparations of his own, saying the deceased’s remains were rightfully his. He was singularly unprepared to engage with either his mother or three siblings in that regard and had scorned an attempt by Legal Aid South Africa, which the family approached to resolve their differences, to mediate the dispute between them.

He said his mother had left his father for someone else and, at the time of his father’s death, she had lived with her “current boyfriend”.

Judge BC Hartle said the widow had been forthcoming with the court from the outset concerning the state of her relationship. She had not sought to exaggerate a perfect marriage but appeared to the court to have been family-centred.

She had forgiven his absences from home and sought to maintain harmonious relationships for the sake of the family. Her husband had chosen to live in Hanover with his son but had not severed the bonds of his marriage to his widow.

She was also supported by her other sons who confirmed that despite the imperfections in their parents’ relationship, they had, until his death, remained committed to their bonds of marriage.

The judge said the widow stood to gain nothing by burying her husband, other than wanting to preserve the integrity of her family. While the had deceased never stated anywhere where he wanted to be buried, the son had said the elders told him it should be Hanover.

The judge ruled in favour of the widow, who is supported by the rest of the family, that their beloved member be buried at his ancestral home.

Pretoria News

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