Crumbling cremators

2008-11-12 00:00

Ceremonies associated with rites of passage — birth, coming-of-age, marriage, death — are important to most human societies. Death arouses especially deep emotion and demands great sensitivity on the part of those whose work it is to commit bodies to the ground or to the crematorium furnace. These things should be performed with dignity and decorum, according to the social and religious customs of the deceased and their families.

So it is deplorable that the Pietermaritzburg crematorium hasn’t been fully operational for at least five years, during which time cremators have frequently broken down, or else functioned imperfectly — so much so that on one occasion recently a partially cremated body had to be sent to Durban for completion of the process. Distressing for the bereaved, unacceptable in a civilised society.

Is it so difficult to keep cremators working efficiently? Certainly not. Recently a group of concerned residents took officials from the parks division to visit Durban crematoriums whose efficiency and cleanliness emphasised the shortcomings of the Pietermaritzburg facility. Were the officials impressed? Did they speed home, chastened and ashamed, to put matters right? Well, no, because only one of the three cremators is functional, and that at reduced efficiency since it was damaged by fire. Even if the other two are repaired in a fortnight as promised by Msunduzi’s parks and recreation director Steven Naick, this simply will not do.

What is needed is expert maintenance of all three cremators, which means that those who have the contract need to be called to account. Although Zwe Hulane, deputy municipal manager for community services and social equity, says the competence of the contractors is to be reviewed, one wonders on what basis they were appointed in the first place. Was their appointment a formal process in accordance with municipal regulations, or was there some form of corruption, perhaps involving bribery or nepotism with no regard to credentials and quality of work?

Clearly, poor management is to blame — a conclusion supported by the fact that Hulane’s division underspent by R1,1 million during the first quarter of this year, funds that might have gone some way to paying for the expertise needed to return all three cremators to peak efficiency. It looks as though heads should roll, not just of the contractors so dismally failing in their task, but of those in higher places who are not fulfilling their responsibilities.

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