Indignity in death

2018-03-16 13:45
Mloyi Mhlakwane watching over his sister's body at the Pietermaritzburg landfill site.

Mloyi Mhlakwane watching over his sister's body at the Pietermaritzburg landfill site. (Nokuthula Ntuli)

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Ntsiki Mhlakwane’s crushed body lay amid the stench and filth of the city dump through the day on Thursday as police and striking morgue staff argued about who should take the body away.

Mhlakwane (56), a waste picker, was accidentally run over by a compactor at the Pietermaritzburg landfill site at about 9 am.

Calls for help drew no response from the Pietermaritzburg Medico-Legal Mortuary’s staff, who also refused to allow police to use one of their vehicles to collect the body.

Guarding her body through the heat and an afternoon downpour was her brother, Mloyi Mhlakwane, who is also a picker.

He sat helplessly less than two metres from her body, which he had covered with old boards and plastic, so that the trundling trucks would not run over her again.

“I’m worried that her body is decomposing because of this heat and this place is already full of maggots because of the waste that is dumped here,” he said.

When the clouds gathered and the rain started to pour heavily in the afternoon, Mloyi continued to watch over his sister’s body. He tried to light a cigarette but it quickly went out, but he still would not move except to occasionally walk around the makeshift shelter to ensure that his sister’s body did not get wet.

“I can’t leave her here, even if it means I must stay here the whole week until they come and get her body or give me a go-ahead to take her home.

“I’m also scared that the scavengers will come at night and help themselves to her body. Then I won’t be able to find her,” he said.

The Lesotho-born Mhlakwane siblings came to South Africa in 2016 with hopes of finding jobs, but they were unsuccessful.

They decided to join the dozens of pickers who glean the landfill site on a daily basis for recyclable waste which they sell to recycling companies to make ends meet.

“We were not raised to steal or beg. Whatever we have we worked hard for it, every day of the week we come out here and dig into waste like rats.

“We were not making millions but it was enough to pay rent, buy food and send some money home,” said Mloyi.

As evening approached on Thursday, many of the outraged waste pickers made their way home. Many described the treatment of Mhlakwane’s death as “barbaric”.

“It’s inhumane to treat a person like this, especially the dead, but I suppose we should not expect better treatment when we are dead because the waste pickers are treated worse than animals in this area,” said one of them.

Police sources told The Witness that some senior SAPS officials had gone to the Pietermaritzburg Medico-Legal Mortuary to ask for a van to pick up Mhlakwane’s body but the morgue staff refused to hand over the car keys.

“They said the police have no authority to drive the mortuary van just like they would never drive a police van,” he said.

Waste picker Sindi Gcwabaza said it was “unfeeling” of the morgue staff to not consider the bereaved families who rely on their services.

A government official who cannot not be named said: “It’s barbaric how she’s being treated.

“I don’t think that any person should do what these people are doing to her. It doesn’t matter that they are striking, how can you leave a person’s body out all day.”

KZN Department of Health’s Ncumisa Mafunda said they regret the disruption of services and the delays which were experienced by bereaved families due to the strike.

Last night she said plans to resolve the delay in picking up Mhlakwane’s body were at an advanced stage.

“The department would like to apologise profusely to the family of the deceased for the slow service,” she said.

Mafunda said there are consultations underway to resolve the staff unrest. A meeting was also held on Thursday where the staff were asked to get back to work while the consultation process continued.

“The department also liaised with a number of stakeholders in putting together a contingency plan to ensure that service delivery is not interrupted further, should the strike continue tomorrow [Friday],” she said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  accident

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