'Our sacrifices do not compare to the grief of families'
DURBAN - The rising number of Covid-19 deaths has not affected the morale of burial and crematorium staff and volunteers. In an effort to provide a dignified service to grieving families, they are willing to go the extra mile.
Thegraj Cassie, the secretary of the Clare Estate Umgeni Hindu Crematorium Society, said: “Our staff has been real heroes during this time. They are willing to help everyone as far as possible, even if it means working a little longer at their own will. Our aim is to assist the community because of the tragedies that they are experiencing.”
He said since last Wednesday, the facility had conducted about 35 cremations a day, of which, about 70% were Covid-related deaths.
"Last Monday, we had about 40 cremations, and it put strain on the staff, so we opted to do 35 a day."
Cassie said they have also increased their staff and operating hours.
“We have employed office staff and three general assistants. Prior to the pandemic, cremations were done from about 11am until 6pm. Now, we are operating from 6am up until 11pm. In the next couple of weeks, we intend on extending our operating hours and working 24 hours, but it is dependent on the lockdown, the curfew in place and seeking the required approvals."
The facility has also increased their orders of gas for the five furnaces. “We used to do two gas fillings a month, but since this month, we have had to increase the order from every two weeks to every two days. During this difficult time, we cannot afford to run out of gas and place the families under any more distress."
Salim Kazi, the chairperson of the Islamic Burial Council, which is operated by volunteers, said the long working hours and sacrifices were small in comparison to the grief families were enduring.
“The Almighty has given us the strength to assist families who have lost loved ones and who could have been their breadwinners or pillars. In this second wave, elderly parents are burying their children. You see them holding onto their grandchildren as young as one or five-years-old.
"We cannot complain about a few hours of sleep that we may have lost in the day, while others have to bear a loss for a lifetime. Also, in our Holy Qur'an, it says, 'Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear'."
Kazi, who is also the facilitator for the Bayview Muslim Burial Trust, said they conducted about 10 burials a day, 80% of which were Covid-related deaths in the last week. "There has been an increase compared to the previous week."
The board of management at the Divine Life Society of South Africa, which founded and runs the Sivananda Ghat, said they were committed to serving the community. The ghat is a post-cremation public facility situated alongside the uMgeni River and next to the Clare Estate Umgeni Hindu Crematorium. At the facility, families are able to dispose of the ashes of their loved ones.
"Our staff is working long hours, and this can be exhausting. They are nonetheless committed to serving the community and see this as an offering to our divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda. Most of the workers and volunteers have served at the ghat for many years, and so they are emotionally strong, but the huge number of deaths is worrying.
"There is a lot of chanting and praying at the ghat, and this offers strength and solace to the bereaved and those serving at the ghat benefit also. The gratitude and good wishes from the public, who use the facility, also increases the morale of our workers and volunteers who are our frontline heroes at the ghat.
The board said about 25 ash disposals were done a day, of which, about 18 were Covid-19 related deaths. They have also had to increase its operating times. "In the past, disposals only occurred from around noon. We now commence with disposals as early as 7am and continue within curfew (9pm). Generally, mourners prefer coming in early the next morning if the cremations are at night, especially due to safety reasons and the curfew."
The board encouraged mourners to make bookings in advance.