Pietermaritzburg funeral parlours under strain

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uMgungundlovu­ District’s seven local municipalities are planning to commission new cemeteries as available grave­sites are quickly filling up due to Covid-19 deaths.
uMgungundlovu­ District’s seven local municipalities are planning to commission new cemeteries as available grave­sites are quickly filling up due to Covid-19 deaths.
  • Funeral parlours in Pietermaritzburg are now doing between 30 and 50 funerals weekly — from fewer than 20 before the Covid-19 outbreak
  • Funeral parlours fear that they could soon run out of coffins if the manufacturers do not resume operations soon
  • “For now it’s manageable and we have enough graves in the existing cemeteries but we don’t know for how long they’re going to last if people continue dying at the current rate.”

Funeral parlours in Pietermaritzburg are organising about double the number of funerals than usual. This as uMgungundlovu­ District’s seven local municipalities are planning to commission new cemeteries as available grave­sites are quickly filling up due to Covid-19 deaths.

“During the first wave things were bad but the situation is now worse. The second wave is going to wipe out families. We are doing no less than five burials a day and I’m talking about every day of the week.”
Themba Njilo, Nduduzo Bespoke Funerals

Funeral parlours are now doing between 30 and 50 funerals weekly — from fewer than 20 before the Covid-19 outbreak — and there are fears that they could soon run out of coffins if the manufacturers do not resume operations soon.

“During the first wave things were bad but the situation is now worse. The second wave is going to wipe out families. We are doing no less than five burials a day and I’m talking about every day of the week,” said Themba Njilo of Nduduzo Bespoke Funerals.

Read more: The party’s over: Back to Level 3 restrictions as SA ignores Covid guidelines

Njilo said they are now even taking coffins from showrooms and using them for burials. He said they are seeing that a large number of people are dying at home because they do not go to clinics to get tested when they fall ill.

“Yesterday alone we had nine home deaths and we now treat all of them as Covid-19 cases because we honestly don’t know and we can’t risk getting their relatives or our staff infected,” said Njilo.

On the finances, he said the cost of conducting funerals has increased significantly, but they cannot charge their customers extra so they shoulder the additional costs.

“We are now also having to bury people before the insurance policies pay out because the law says that in a Covid-19 death the body has to be in the ground in three days. Sometimes there are delays or the claims are rejected, but we are also coming across a lot of cases where funeral insurance policies have lapsed as a result of people having lost their jobs due to Covid-19.”
Themba Njilo, Nduduzo Bespoke Funerals

Read more: ‘Stay home’, religious leaders urge Hindu and Muslim communities in KZN

While providing comfort to the mourners, undertakers also have to ensure that the regulations in place are not flouted, especially since funerals have been reportedly found to be events at which Covid-19 spreads. Njilo said this continues to be their biggest challenge as the regulations have been largely ignored.

“I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years and I can tell you now, even at the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic I’ve never seen people dying at this rate. People are now sick for a few days and they are gone if they don’t get medical help urgently,” said Njilo.

uMgungundlovu District head of community services Thabisile Ndlela said on Tuesday they are preparing for the unknown because they do not want to be caught off-guard as the second wave has already shown to be even more dangerous.

“For now it’s manageable and we have enough graves in the existing cemeteries but we don’t know for how long they’re going to last if people continue dying at the current rate.”
uMgungundlovu District head of community services, Thabisile Ndlela

By uMgungundlovu’s calculations, a total of 52 000 gravesites can still be developed in the current and new municipal cemeteries, 23 000 of which can be in Msunduzi, while uMshwati and uMngeni can have 10 000 each, and 5 000 in Richmond. Impendle and Mpofana also have capacity for 2 000 new graves each.

“It’s sad and concerning that we are once again a hotspot, especially now in the second wave, because it shows that a lot of people are still not taking Covid-19 seriously even though the government has done everything to empower them with informationon how we can all work together to curb the spread ...”
uMgungundlovu District head of community services, Thabisile Ndlela

Said Ndlela: “It’s sad and concerning that we are once again a hotspot, especially now in the second wave, because it shows that a lot of people are still not taking Covid-19 seriously even though the government has done everything to empower them with informationon how we can all work together to curb the spread ...”

Read more: Let’s be socially responsible and postpone events if we must - KwaZulu-Natal health MEC

He said while the rest of the country might be on Level 3 of the lockdown, it is their hope as the district that uMgungundlovu­ residents will conduct themselves as if they are on level 5 for the next three months.

“The next few months are going to be hard if we don’t change the way we do things. As individuals, more especially our youth, we have to learn to make unpopular decisions to protect ourselves. If you are invited to an event just ask yourself, ‘is that party really worth my life?’.”
uMgungundlovu District head of community services, Thabisile Ndlela

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