Cremation nightmare

2019-03-19 15:00
A generic picture of a coffin.

A generic picture of a coffin. (

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A power failure at the Mountain Rise crematorium plunged an already grieving Northdale family into a macabre nightmare as the furnaces shut down midway through the cremation of a relative.

The body of Anitha Brijlal (58) lay in one of the furnaces for nearly 10 hours on Sunday night as her family suffered through “conflicting stories” while trying to get Msunduzi to restore power to the crematorium.

Brijlal, a TB sufferer who was disabled after her left leg was amputated due to diabetes, died on Friday night at Grey’s Hospital after a heart attack.

The cremator went off at 2 pm on Sunday due to load shedding after the cremation began an hour earlier. Load shedding was scheduled to end at 4 pm, but electricity did not resume at the crematorium because of a fault.

According to Hindu custom, Brijlal’s body was due to be cremated after her funeral on Sunday morning. Her remains would then have had to be taken to another crematorium in Durban to be released into a river.

Her son Reaan told The Witness the family had to drive to Durban at about 10 pm to release her ashes in a desperate attempt to avoid bad omens that come if rites are not concluded within the day.

A devastated Reaan said the family were given several undertakings from the City to fix the problem that never materialised, including that they were sending electricians and private contractors, who never came.

“There was even talk of running a cable from the crematory to a streetlight and use electricity from that. It never happened.”

He said: “While we were waiting, two families who were there took their loved ones back to the mortuary.

“Another person who was waiting for us, his relative’s body began to decompose,” Reaan said.

“The undertaker offered to take my mother’s body back to the morgue but I refused because that’s not our custom. I said I would wait until the next morning if I have to.”

Power was eventually restored at about 9 pm, and the cremation was resumed. “We got the ashes at 9.50 pm, and we drove to Durban after that.

“I was frantically checking my phone to make sure we release the ashes before midnight.”

Brijlal’s ashes were released at 11.46 pm, Reaan said, adding that the family were considering taking legal action against Msunduzi after being left “haunted” by the ordeal.

“There was no staff there to help us, no back-up plan, no maintenance being done. What if her body was still lying there now?”

Reaan said he had moved back home last year after working in Dubai for 11 years to take care of his mother whose condition had deteriorated.

“I knew for the last month that she was going to die. I got everything ready and now to send her off like this.”

The area’s councillor, Rooksana Ahmed, who was assisting families on Sunday night at the cemetery, questioned why cremations were allowed to go ahead despite load shedding schedules.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the incident was “beyond our control” because electricity was not restored when it should have been after load shedding.

She said the electricity department took “longer than anticipated” to find the fault before restoring power.

She said the cremators were “in perfect working order and are serviced regularly”, adding that all bills related to the crematorium were paid.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  cremation

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