What’s going to happen to all the dead bodies in the country from Monday to Wednesday if funeral parlours are forced to shut down?
This, as people are dying on a daily basis from Covid-19.
That’s the question being asked by local funeral parlours in the wake of a threatening voice note — made by an identified man — being forwarded on WhatsApp.
He says that if anyone in the industry operates, there will be repercussions.
“We will show you that we don’t play games”, “make sure your vehicles are parked”, “they will get what’s coming” and “we are prepared to die for the cause” are some of the things said on the menacing voice note.
It follows a notice issued on Wednesday by the The Unification Task Team (UTT), to the funeral industry that there will be a national shutdown of hospitals and mortuaries on Monday from 8 am.
The UTT said it is made up of funeral associations and forums.
Its list of demands is lengthy and includes them wanting government to allocate a Covid-19 relief fund for the funeral industry with immediate effect. (See more in the sidebar).
However, the Funeral Industry Reformed Association (FIRA) has distanced itself from the strike action.
It has also encouraged parlours to lay charges of intimidation and seek protection when removing bodies from the place of death, if the need arises.
Owners of funeral parlours spoke to Weekend Witness on condition they were unnamed.
They are terrified their premises would be torched or that something bad would happen to them for being critical of the strike action.
One local owner said that while he does not support the strike action, he will have to close because of the threats. He recalled that similar threats were made to those in the trucking industry and trucks were set alight.
Another owner said that he supports the demands and is taking the threats seriously. He said he will be closing his branches in Durban.
In Pietermaritzburg, he said he will decide closer to the time.
The call to shut down has been described as “insensitive to the families of the bereaved” by another owner.
“They are screaming for us to shut down. It’s not a legal strike.”
He said some of the demands made are understandable and valid while others are not.
The man said legal channels such as the courts should be used to resolve the issues. “They have threatened … to burn us in our cars,” he said.
He questioned what is going to happen to the pile up of bodies at private hospitals should the shutdown happen. He said that while state hospitals have mortuaries, private hospitals don’t.
The government spokesperson, Phumla Williams, could not be reached for comment.
The demands are to the departments of health, home affairs, small business development, cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Financial Services Conduct Authority, Road Accident Fund and the National Consumer Commission.
They want the Health Department to recognise the outsourcing of mortuary facilities. All funeral directors sharing storage facilities on a lease agreement or ownership (including communal ownership) must each qualify for ownership of the certificate of competence for that particular facility and certificates of competence should only be a requirement for a building of storage and management of human remains.
They want the Department of Home Affairs to allow funeral undertakers who don’t own a certificate of competence to write designation number examinations.
The group also wants municipal bylaws amended to accommodate the building of bulk, cluster or complex storages.
Another demand is to abolish the tender system in the funeral industry.
They want funeral undertakers to claim and be paid directly by the Road Accident Fund using the session agreement and to fast-track claims to allow bereaved families to bury their loved ones debt free.
“We want the Department of Small Business Development to channel some of its budget to the funeral industry through grants that will assist in the development of small and emerging funeral undertakers.
“We want government to introduce programmes that seek to assist struggling funeral undertakers who were previously disadvantaged particularly black owned funeral undertakers, for them to be able to comply with the requirements. Not shut them down,” said the demands.