South Africans have been assured that the shortage in coffins experienced during the festive season is now over. Picture:Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)
South Africans have been assured that the shortage in coffins experienced during the festive season is now over. Picture:Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Coffin mini crisis over, says National Funeral Directors Association

By Norman Cloete Time of article published Jan 9, 2021

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Johannesburg - South Africans have been assured that the shortage in coffins experienced during the festive season is now over.

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) said the mini crisis in the industry was caused by stockpiling and the unprecedented spike in the mortality rate in the country as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deputy president of the NFDA, Dr Lawrence Konyana, said the shortage was particularly experienced in the Western and Eastern Cape, which recorded the highest death toll figures.

“I can safely say that there was never really a crisis. Manufacturers went on holiday but they have returned to work a week earlier and stocks are being replenished,” he said.

The Daily Mail in the UK reported that South African funeral directors spoke of “running out of coffins” after they were overwhelmed by a 120% surge in Covid-19 deaths.

South Africa is facing a highly-infectious mutant variant of coronavirus, which has caused the spike in deaths and cases.

According to the Health Department’s latest stats, the country reported 1.19 million cases, 947 919 recoveries and 32 425 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Cases in South Africa have soared from fewer than 3 000 a day at the start of December to more than 20 000 a day, with the mutant variant accounting for up to 90% of those new infections.

But Konyana said he had personally spoken to the manufacturers and appealed to the NFDA’s 500-strong membership not to panic buy, as there was now enough stock available. Coffin-makers have been working double shifts to make up for the shortfall.

“It’s also important to note that it’s quite normal for funeral homes to stockpile before the festive season. The homes which ran short had limited stock and that was used up fairly quickly because of the spike in deaths. But we were able to move stock around to areas which had run out,” said Konyana.

Many people took to social media to express concern about the delay in making funeral arrangements because of the coffin shortage, but Konyana stressed that there is enough stock available.

“Manufacturers understand the crisis and we have appealed to our members to be sensitive about this national need. In the last week alone, one manufacturer made about 2 000 coffins. The aim for each manufacturer is to produce between 3 000 and 4 000 coffins a week,” he said.

Konyana said the country’s Covid-19 protocols dictated that funerals must be held within five days of a death and this included weekends, which could add to the delay in securing a coffin.

General manager: corporate services at AVBOB, Adriaan Bester, said the company had it's own coffin factory in Bloemfontein.

“We provided additional stock to our branches before the festive season and we are able to replenish their stock at short notice. Our coffin usage has been substantially higher than normal and I would guess that other service providers may run into trouble if their suppliers were closed for the festive season. We also distributed 19 mobile container mortuaries around the country in anticipation of more deaths resulting from the second Covid-19 wave,” he said.

Bester agreed with Konyana that the increase in deaths, specifically in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, had placed additional pressure on systems and infrastructure, and people who were performing double and even three times the number of funerals that they usually did.

“AVBOB is confident that we can overcome capacity challenges and will provide service to our customers as they expect us to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, Konyana has appealed to South Africans to not attend funerals where possible.

“In the African tradition you’re obliged to go to funerals, but the times have changed. We have to heed the call to stay away from gatherings and we have to embrace technology. This is a wake-up call for all of us,” he said.

Saturday Star

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