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Crematorium can’t cope with volume of bodies in Western Cape needing to be cremated

Maitland Crematorium. The City’s Community Services and Health Department is asking mourners and undertakers to consider week-day burials to help elevate the load over weekends. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Maitland Crematorium. The City’s Community Services and Health Department is asking mourners and undertakers to consider week-day burials to help elevate the load over weekends. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Published Aug 28, 2021


Cape Town - Families wishing to cremate loved ones can expect to wait up to a month for their ashes.

Maitland Crematorium is experiencing a backlog due to an increase in both natural death and Covid-19-related fatalities, and some private graveyards are waterlogged due to heavy rainfall.

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The City’s Community Services and Health Department is asking mourners and undertakers to consider week-day burials to help elevate the load over weekends.

This week, undertakers around the Western Cape confirmed they were burying between six to eight people per day and that the crematorium could not cope with the large volumes of bodies needing to be cremated.

Maitland Crematorium. FILE

A month ago, undertakers confirmed they were carrying out 35 burials a week and up to 100 a month, which were Covid-19 related.

Earth burials were also a challenge for Muslims while Maitland Cemetery was left waterlogged due to rain and others were battling to keep up with the dig demands, and some, such as Delft and Belhar, have been closed to the Muslim community due to space.

Yesterday, councillor Zahid Badroodien, Mayco member for Community Services and Health, confirmed that Maitland Cemetery had reached its maximum capacity.

Badroodien added new cremations could not be booked this week and planned to clear the backlog over the weekend.

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“In the recent past, there have been cases of existing private family grave preparation affected by heavy rainfall causing a high water table.”

“However, an alternate arrangement will be made with the undertakers and in line with the maximum amount of burials that City cemeteries can accommodate on any given day.

“The Maitland Crematorium had a particularly busy week, reaching maximum capacity as well as maintenance carried out to one of the cremators.

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“We plan to work 24 hours to clear the number of cremations over the weekend, as new cremation bookings are not received over weekends.

“When there isn’t an ability to do a cremation at Maitland Cemetery, we partner with private crematoriums such as the Durbanville Crematorium to ensure ongoing services and encourage undertakers to utilise this facility made available to them.”

Badroodien added that Maitland Cemetery was fully operational.

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He is now encouraging mourners to rather bury during the week to shift the capacity of funerals taking place over the weekend and is reminding undertakers to continue with their bookings as early as possible.

“We encourage week-day burials were possible and a reminder to undertakers to ensure that they supply both the cemetery booking office and crematorium with all the necessary registration, medical and proof of payment documentation for streamlined authorisation and bookings.”

Rowena van Wyk, head of communications for the Department Local Government said they had plans in place in the event the pressure became too much and capacity was reached, and that additional storage facilities would be identified.

“During the first wave of the pandemic, the higher number of Covid-19-related fatalities placed additional pressure on the mortuaries in the City and also in the rural areas of the province, but contingency plans were pro-actively developed to effectively manage an escalation in the number of incidents.”

But Ebrahim Solomons, the chairperson of the Western Cape Muslim Undertakers, told Weekend Argus they were under pressure daily, dealing with graveyards that were either waterlogged or closed due to capacity or only available for re-opening.

“We thought this wave was flattening, and unfortunately, it took a sudden up swing again,” said Solomons.

“The problem that we as Muslims have, is like I said before is burial space. At the current moment, Maitland Cemetery is closed because it is water-logged.

“In the northern suburbs, we have Welmoed, Belhar, which is also closed, it is full for us as Muslims, and Delft.

“The pressure is placed, if they want to bury at a City cemetery like Welmoed or private cemeteries like Johnson Road in Athlone and Observatory or Mowbray, there the pressure is also placed.

“We find sometimes there are no holes because the diggers cannot cope by digging the holes. Johnson Road only does re-openings because they are filled to capacity. As far as the burial is concerned, the wave has taken an upswing.

“We, as Muslims, try to bury as soon as possible. Sometimes the same day, or very early the next day.The pressure is placed on us to wash and fetch the body and shroud it. We are experiencing problems at the hospitals where the notices of death, known as the BI’s, are not completed.

“We have to sit and wait at the hospital for two hours for it to be completed, and it's difficult for us. We have to sit and wait.

“People want to bury as soon as possible. The rate that people are dying at now, it is not just Covid, it is natural death like illnesses and elderly people and the amount of people dying of Covid, has added to amounts we as undertakers doing five to eight funerals a day, and it is taxing.”

He said the undertakers' fraternity had been hit by another blow, the loss of Pastor Kenny Mc Dillon, the co-ordinator of the Undertakers United Front in the Western Cape, who passed away this week.

“My friend and colleague, we lost Pastor Kenny Mc Dillon. I am one of the Muslim undertakers who does repatriation, and whenever we had a problem or needed a body to be sent away, I would pick up the phone day or night and call Mr McDillon and asked him advice. He was always ready to give advice,” he said. “He was a giant in this industry.”

Monray Adams, the owner of Monray Royal Funerals, said they were experiencing difficulty with cremations.

He said there was a huge backlog and a waiting period for up to a month for a booking at the Crematorium.

“The day before yesterday, I had six bodies and yesterday five, and there is a huge backlog,” he said. “They said they could not accommodate the five bodies and would let me know when there was a booking available.

“You can wait up to a month for the ashes due to the increase in there being bodies both for natural and Covid-19-related deaths.”

Weekend Argus