Verulam residents fear building of mortuary in area would be traumatic for children
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Durban: Resident in Verulam fear the souls of the departed could haunt them if plans to build a mortuary in a residential area are approved.
They are also concerned about possible increased traffic, the negative impact on the value of their properties, and the psychological trauma of their children seeing bodies being carried in body bags to the mortuary.
Earlier this year, Bongani Zikhali, the owner of Mthunzi Funeral Services in Verulam, applied to the eThekwini Municipality for special consent to operate a mortuary in Petunia Circle which is zoned general commercial.
In a letter to the city, which the POST has in its position, Zikhali requested a permit to run a mortuary because there were no mortuaries in Verulam. He said the facility would provide a service to residents and, because Covid-19 was still upon us and more space was needed to keep bodies.
He referred to the challenges India faced when their death rate shot up due to the pandemic.
In September, notices were put up by the city on streets poles informing the residents about the plans to build a mortuary. According to the notice, residents had until October 10 to send their objections to Zikhali, the city, and the Department of Health.
Andrew Vadivaloo who has lived in the area for 35 years, said Zikhali had misled the community into believing that he was building a block of flats.
"It was only when we saw the notice that we realised he planned to build the mortuary instead. When we enquired with the municipality, we were told that he put forward an application and, as part of the process, he advertised his intentions to build the mortuary in two newspapers in August."
Vadivaloo said they were told to send their objections.
"Having a mortuary in the middle of our suburb will be a nuisance. There will be more traffic and noise pollution from vehicles and people going in and out of the area. The character of the area will change. Families like to spend time outdoors, braaing and relaxing. A mortuary will be an eyesore.
"The elderly, who are superstitious, have said that if a soul does not find rest, it will roam the Earth. In Hinduism, when someone dies, rice is placed on the ground as a way for the soul to find rest. If a soul does not find rest some residents believe that they will haunt the Earth."
He said while the residents understood there was a need for a mortuary, he could not understand why it had to be built in a suburb.
"We are hoping the municipality and the department treat our objections seriously."
Another resident Kogila Cooper, a real estate agent, said a mortuary would de-value properties.
"People are not willing to purchase properties near informal dwellings, places with high crime rates, and with constant municipal issues like water and electricity cuts. They would certainly not want to live near a mortuary. If someone agrees to buy the property, the homeowner will lose out because the mortuary will be used as leverage to negotiate a lower price."
Cooper said the psychological impact of having a mortuary in their midst on children must also be taken into account.
"Many of the children walk to school and seeing this mortuary offload or load bodies will make them scared. Little kids may think about ghosts and feel traumatised believing they will be haunted. It's human nature.
“In addition, the area has had a number of municipal issues, like water cuts and electricity shortages due to fibre being installed and just poor infrastructure. What will happen if the mortuary does not have a generator? Will we have to deal with the smell of decomposing bodies? " she asked.
Johnson Chetty, the councillor for the area, said: "This is a very sensitive matter considering that the proposed mortuary is expected to operate from a residential area which has always experienced peace and tranquility."
Chetty said he encouraged people to object based on the merits of the matter.
"We had a meeting on Sunday where residents were told how the appeal processes worked, and what protocols to follow should the objections be overruled by the Town Planning Department. I am hoping that common sense prevails and this proposal does not materialise."
Msawakhe Mayisela, the spokesperson for the eThekwini Municipality, said: "To our knowledge, the property owner is on-site with approved building plans for the commercial development (shops and units)."
He said the property was zoned commercial.
"The owner has submitted a special consent application to establish a mortuary. The application is currently on the public participation stage, which is running from August 2021 until October 11, 2021. Interested or affected parties may submit written objections before the closing date."
Ntokozo Maphisa, the acting head of communications for the Department of Health in KZN, said the department would look into the matter.
The owner had not responded to calls and messages for comment at the time of publication.