Court threat to council

2012-01-26 00:00

THE city’s cremation crisis and the disrespect shown to a local judge over his municipal billing problem have galvanised advocates to form a team to legally challenge Msunduzi over non-delivery of services.

Advocate Mergan Chetty told a packed gathering about the pro-bono (free) legal challenge at the crematorium crisis meeting in the Raisethorpe Arya Samaj Hall last night.

He referred to The Witness story on Judge Rishinand Seegobin, whose water and electricity were cut off over a disputed bill.

Speaker after speaker lamented the non-responsiveness of the municipality. Vinod Harry said his concern was whether the municipality would listen, “or are we wasting our time? I don’t think they care,” he said.

Pete Jugmohan said the crematorium crisis has been developing for 10 years. Residents once tried to form a committee and wanted to see former municipal manager Rob Haswell, but instead a junior official was sent to meet with them, he said.

Msunduzi Rates Forum chairperson Babs Sithapersad (who co-hosted the meeting with the Midlands Hindu Society) described the entire Mountain Rise cemetery as frightening. “How can I leave someone whom I love there?” he asked.

Advocate Ranjiv Nirgin, who chaired last night’s meeting, is also a member of the legal panel mentioned by Chetty. He suggested a way forward that was adopted. A 10-person committee was formed with powers to co-opt expert members. A delegation will be appointed to meet council leaders with various demands involving the sorting out of the crematoria and the cemetery.

If these are not met, the crisis committee will take the council to court to, as Nirghin said, compel them to do what they are supposed to do — deliver services to residents.

The committee will also explore various ways that the crematoria can be managed. The meeting felt privatisation was not an option and a public/private partnership may be a way to go.

Martin Smith from Independent Crematoriums of South Africa (Icsa) told the gathering that in the past year his company took 650 cremations from Pietermartizburg to be performed at Icsa crematoria in Port Shepstone and Durban.

A member of the audience calculated that with Pietermaritzburg charging R1 100 per cremation (one of the highest fees in the country) the municipality had lost R715 000 in revenue. This would have been enough to maintain the crematoria.

Nirghin said Mayor Chris Ndlela and speaker Babu Baijoo had asked to attend last night’s gathering, but he turned them down as he did not want the meeting to be turned into a slanging match but instead to be a constructive attempt to find solutions.

Dr Julie Dyer, Msunduzi acting process manager for community services, said she and two other officials were at the meeting to learn. Dyer apologised over the bad state at the crematoria, which she called appalling and indefensible.

“I am a doctor, I know what trauma families go through when there is the death of a loved one,” Dyer said.

She added that a proposal had been passed by the council’s Executive Committee (Exco) for Provincial Treasury to assist in undertaking a review on options to effectively run the crematoria.

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