Cremations in a ‘state of disaster’ as upgrade of cremators are delayed

Upgrade work under way at Maitland Crematorium.

Upgrade work under way at Maitland Crematorium.

Published Feb 10, 2024


Cape Town – Cape Town undertakers are facing a crisis as snags in the Maitland Crematorium upgrade have exacerbated delays in the cremation process.

Families are now waiting up to a month to receive the ashes of their loved ones, in what undertakers have slammed as “a disaster”.

The undertakers have also called for private crematoriums, such as Milnerton and Drakenstein, to be given the green light after operations were halted.

The upgrade to the Maitland Crematorium, one of four in the province, began in November with a budget of R17.6 million. However, unforeseen delays have pushed back the estimated completion date, leaving undertakers and families in limbo.

One of the new cremators set to be installed at Maitland Crematorium. Picture: City of Cape Town

Patricia van der Ross, Mayco member for community service and health, confirmed the delays and acknowledged the impact on families.

“Due to unforeseen delays, the new cremators did not become fully operational mid-December and the testing and commissioning are still to take place in the next few weeks.”

To address the immediate crisis, undertakers are calling for the green light to operate private crematoriums, such as Milnerton and Drakenstein, which were previously halted. These facilities could help ease the burden on the Maitland Crematorium and alleviate the delays.

The City manages the Maitland Crematorium, while others, including Durbanville, Drakenstein, Worcester, and George, are privately managed.

Van der Ross highlighted the expansion of the internal cold room capacity from 36 to 100 coffins to accommodate the increased demand.

As the crisis continues, affected families and undertakers are anxiously waiting for the completion of the Maitland Crematorium upgrade and the reopening of private crematoriums, to restore a sense of normalcy in the grieving process.

But Van der Ross said: “The City is unable to provide information on other private crematoriums in the Western Cape. The City only manages the Maitland Crematorium and the others, namely Durbanville, Drakenstein, Worcester and George, are privately managed.”

But undertakers have said bodies were being held in cold storage up to three weeks before being cremated, at a cost to their business and families.

Many are now forced to send their bodies to Nelson Mandela Bay’s Dispatch Crematorium, paying the cost for transportation and the cremation.

Deon Solomon of the National Funeral Forum said they considered the current state of affairs a disaster and that they have been in constant meetings with the City.

“We were told the cremators would be running by the end of February but there seems to be a backlog now,” he added.

“There is only one cremator working at present and I was at the crematorium this week and I brought the body on February 6 and was told it could only be ready by February 21, a three-week waiting period.

“This is unfair to our undertakers who are storing bodies in bulk at the airport facilities, because they have to pay a price for storage. If 30 funerals are done, for example, they have to bring those bodies back to the facility and wait until a booking is available.

“I would say this is a state of disaster and our concerns are not being heard.

“We are calling for Drakenstein to be reopened after it was closed due to technicalities.”

Last year, Drakenstein Crematorium, in Paarl, received a notice of suspension from the Cape Winelands District Municipality.

Solomon said the crematorium’s capacity “could only do eight a day”.

Sheldon Solomon, the director of Fern Funerals in the Western Cape, said they were in the same boat and had to rely on Eastern Cape cremators.

“This is placing strain on the client, who questions whether the ash they have received is their loved one, and we have to assure them that the person who’s being transported’s remains will be safe.

“Maitland’s administration is non-existent, when you make a booking and arrive there, there is no booking showing on their records.”

Pastor Oscar Bougardt of Calvary Family Funeral Undertakers said the situation was frustrating.

“Sometimes the bodies are sent to Port Elizabeth and sometimes there can be weeks and months of waiting.”