WATCH | Load shedding a grave concern for funeral homes as they try to keep bodies cold

  • Load shedding and heatwaves have flustered South Africa's funeral parlours.
  • Generators are being used to keep mortuary fridges cool.
  • The added cost of continuously burning diesel is making funerals more expensive.

Continuous load shedding in South Africa is proving to be a headache for funeral parlours, which have needed to invest heavily in generators to keep buildings safe and bodies cold, particularly during recent heatwaves.

South Africans have yet to be spared a single day of load shedding this year due to Eskom's unprecedented power station breakdowns and a critical lack of diesel.

Longer periods of powerlessness and a scorching summer - with temperatures recently exceeding 40°C in some areas - have rattled mortuaries and funeral homes.

The South African Funeral Practitioners Association (Safpa) recently flagged concerns about rapidly decaying bodies due to warm mortuary fridges. People were urged people to bury their loved ones within four days.

One of the country's largest funeral directing companies, Doves, has managed to keep mortuary fridges cool enough, but at a high additional cost, which has grown with lengthier bouts of load shedding.

All of Doves' 128 branches in South Africa have been equipped with generators and some have with Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems.

CEO Jodene Smith told News24:

It (load shedding) really has put a great strain on Doves and the industry.

Previously, when load shedding durations were only two hours, the funeral company could maintain cool temperatures in its mortuary fridges without running generators.

READ | 'It's every undertaker for himself': Bodies decomposing rapidly as load shedding hits mortuary freezers

However, with power cuts of four-hour stretches, these diesel-guzzling generators work hard to slow decomposition. 

"And it's not only the cost of the diesel, but it's also the maintenance of the generators as well," Smith said, adding that operational costs had soared since the need arose to equip every branch with a generator.

A criminal's paradise

Criminals have also taken advantage of load shedding, using the cover of blackouts to rob funeral homes of equipment.

"We've had theft of our computers, laptops and cables. They go as far as stealing the washbasins, literally whatever they can get their hands on," Smith said.

The increased costs associated with keeping mortuary fridges cool and upgrading security systems have ultimately made funerals more expensive, Minki Rasenyalo, Doves' executive director, who is responsible for insurance and funeral services, told News24.

"It does [make funerals more expensive]. Remember, when your operational costs are rising, someone has to carry that cost, and unfortunately, it ends up being the consumer."

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