Family buries stranger after Covid-19 body mix-up

  • A Uitenhage family had to organise two funerals in the space of four days after discovering that they had buried a stranger.
  • The bungle was allegedly caused by Uitenage hospital mortuary workers after the name tags of the bodies were switched.
  • The hospital refused to allow the widow of the one of the men to view the body of her husband prior to the funeral, due to Covid-19 regulations.

"They refused to allow me to view my husband's body at the hospital mortuary due to Covid-19 regulations. Now I buried the wrong person."

These were the words of a heartbroken Eastern Cape widow who exclusively told News24 that due to a bungle at Uitenhage Provincial Hospital's mortuary, the body of her 79-year-old husband was mixed up with that of someone else.

As a result, she had to organise two funerals in the space of four days this week.

Retired nurse Nomsa Noda, 67, who worked at the same hospital where her husband died, said she was shocked when an undertaker, accompanied by her pastor, visited her on Wednesday to tell her she had buried the wrong person.

Her husband Vukile Noda, 79, died of Covid-19 on 22 June after he was admitted to the hospital seven days earlier.

Noda claimed the mix-up happened when her husband's name tag was put on the body of another person, who also died of Covid-19.

She ended up burying the stranger at a funeral at Matanzima Cemetery in Uitenhage on Sunday.

People travelled from across the country to pay their respects on the day.

The mourners included her daughter Zuziwe Noda who teaches at a Rustenburg school.

READ HERE | Covid-19: 'Why did he not eat for 48 hours?' - father wants answers after son dies in hospital

"I did not even have the strength to call all those people or my daughter to tell her the man she came to bid farewell to was not her father.

On Thursday, she organised another funeral for her husband and the service was attended by less than 20 people.

'He could not sleep that night'

"The second funeral service was too small because 80% of the mourners had already travelled back to their towns of residence, thinking that they had said their goodbyes to my husband. Calling and asking them to return for the right funeral would have been inconsiderate."

Noda said the undertaker knew about the bungle at the hospital on the Tuesday already, but did not have the heart to tell her immediately.

Vukile Noda
Vukile Noda, 79, was buried on Thursday, four days after his family thought they had buried on Sunday in Uitenhage.
Vukile Noda
Vukile Noda, 79, died of Covid-19 on 22 June after he was admitted to the hospital seven days earlier.

"He said he was scared to come immediately. He said he could not sleep that night, so he went to our pastor to tell him the news and they both came to our house on Wednesday. We buried him on Thursday."

"When they came to tell us this, we could not sleep a wink the entire Wednesday night. I am so traumatised by this situation," said Noda.

READ | NHLS fires courier company for risking human life by losing Covid-19 samples

Nyiki Funeral Directors' owner Zway Nyiki confirmed the incident and slammed the health department for creating "chaos".

Counsel the family

"The health department must answer because they are the ones who created this chaos. Yesterday they were doing door-to-door visits, apologising to everyone, including me and the Noda family. They must answer."

The pastor from the Church of God and Saints of Christ church, Siphiwo Mangena, said when Nyiki came to him with the news, he prayed and asked God to grant him strength.

"I had to counsel the family... The undertaker was too shocked and scared to break the news alone so we went together."

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Mangena - who was the only member of the church who could make it to the second funeral on Thursday - said in his 17 years as a pastor, he had never experienced this.

Mangena said:

I prayed, sang and preached alone in front of the 10 mourners. It was very sad. A more dignified funeral was organised for the wrong person on Sunday. This was a big shock, I have never seen anything like this before. That initial funeral was well planned and had financial implications because the church members pledged and bought bouquets of flowers. The choir was there as well, thinking we were bidding farewell to a senior and respected member of our church.

Noda said the mix-up could have been easily avoided.

READ | Covid-19: Govt and AG to monitor relief fund closely - Ramaphosa

"Initially they agreed to show us the body prior to the funeral. They said they would allow two people to view the body behind a glass wall at the mortuary. However, that did not happen."

Integrity, humility

To make matters worse, Noda said the health department never tested her and everyone who stayed with the deceased. She added that a company had to be hired to decontaminate her Luphondwana Street house in Uitenhage's largest township, Nobuhle.   

The costs for the initial funeral were R13 000.

"We chose another coffin for the second funeral and were granted another grave."

She said they heard that the affected family would will exhume the body she initially buried and rebury it.

The Eastern Cape health department condemned the incident.

Provincial health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said: "This is totally unacceptable and regrettable. Officials should always ensure they serve our people with integrity and humility. We condemn the negligence and there must be consequences by the management."

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