The army doctors arrived on Friday at the KwaDukuza district morgue and were working on at least 36 autopsy cases - wanting to ensure that the grieving families affected by the backlog were able to bury their loved ones.
Mortuary staff have been on a go-slow since November 9. They are demanding pay for overtime worked and better working conditions. They claim the department owes 31 workers about R60million in back pay and are refusing to settle. They have vowed a total shutdown.
However KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said doing autopsies was a national duty and required people to be patriots, wanting to protect and be loyal to their country, not striking illegally.
“The job of doing autopsies before 2015 was the job of police and maybe we should give the job back to the police.”
Dhlomo said it was sad that someone who had already suffered the pain of losing a loved one had to suffer by not being able to bury them.
“We have dealt with the backlog, with the help of the army, policemen and healthcare workers and we can assure the public that there will no longer be delays in burying their loved ones,” said Dhlomo.
National Health Education and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Phakama Ndunakazi said they were prepared to stage a national shutdown as the department refused to settle.
“We are not reaching a solution with the department. They owe 31 of our workers R60million in work that was done but not paid.”
Ndunakazi said the department had resorted to criminalising workers.
“On Tuesday we have to go to court to attend a case because the department has resorted to arresting our workers - 23 are appearing in court,” he said.
While the impasse continues between staff and the department, Henry Mkhekhane from Bhamshela was relieved to receive his brother’s body on Friday and prepare for his funeral. It is believed the brother took his own life.
Mkhekhane had gone to the KwaDukuza morgue every day for the past two weeks without getting help.
He applauded the army and the department: “We are glad that the department has finally stepped up.”