City cremations chaos

2008-12-22 00:00

Three years on, Pietermaritzburg’s crematorium woes continue unabated. The Msunduzi Municipality now stands accused of fobbing off city residents with empty promises.

It is more than a month since the head of the parks department Steven Naick assured residents that all three cremators in the city would be working within two weeks.

But the two broken cremators have still not been fixed and the only working cremator is taking over two hours to incinerate a body. Cremations normally take an hour to an hour an a half. In addition, undertakers say the ashes are not the right colour — much darker than the normal greyish colour.

Last week the Maharaj family, who lost an aunt, had to carry out the last rites themselves after the priest they hired to conduct the service could wait no longer as he had other commitments.

Family members were upset that they were denied the opportunity to bid farewell to their aunt with dignity. They said there were a number of funerals on the day and families were distraught that they had to wait well into the night before cremations could be completed.

Local priest Kenny Pillay said the situation is completely out of hand and that priests are now conducting funeral services at 7 pm and 7.30 pm at night to accommodate the dysfunctional cremator.

An undertaker said Hindu rites require the ashes to be disposed of at the time of the funeral. If a funeral is conducted in the evening, and the body takes about two hours to incinerate, families are finding themselves being forced to collect ashes at about 9.30 pm and by the time they drive to the sea or a nearby river to dispose of the ashes it is after midnight.

Pillay accuses the municipality of being insensitive to the large Pietermaritzburg community whose funeral rites involve cremations. He said that over the past three years he has noticed a lack of will on the part of the municipality to sort out the problem.

According to Pillay the contract to fix the cremators continuously goes to inexperienced firms. He said there are specialists who know how to repair cremators and the work should be given to them, but for some reason the municipality persists in giving the work to non-specialists.

The only functioning cremator was installed at the chapel in the cemetery recently at a cost of R1 million. Shortly after it became operational thieves broke in and stole copper wiring and other parts of the device. This same cremator suffered a further mishap when it caught fire recently. It was repaired, but according to undertakers has not functioned properly ever since.

Fed up with the ongoing problems, local undertakers and concerned members of the Hindu community formed a committee to help the municipality sort out the problem.

The committee took members of the parks department on a tour of properly functioning cremation facilities in Durban at Stellawood, Clare Estate and Mobeni. An undertaker said all that was learnt seems to have fallen on deaf ears because when they returned the situation went back to square one.

However, Naick said the municipality has since contracted specialist company G.S. Cremators to repair the cremator, and despite fears that a building contractor is stripping the unit down, he is doing other work.

He referred The Witness to the owner of G.S. Cremators, Willie Fern, to outline the repair project.

Undertakers are satisfied that Fern has been given the contract, considering him as one of the top cremator experts in the country.

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