Agonising mortuary wait goes on
Tension mounts as families confront staff
EMOTIONS boiled over at the Hillbrow mortuary yesterday as frustrated bereaving families sought answers on the release of their loved ones’ bodies.
Police were called in to defuse the situation sparked by the protracted go-slow by Forensic Pathology Services staff.
This came after enraged families confronted management at the mortuary, saying they would be damned if they left without the bodies, which resulted in employees shouting back: “You can take your bodies and go!”
The families felt disrespected by the comment and threatened to take the matter into their own hands.
Among relatives at the end of their tether was the family of a two-year-old who died two weeks ago, and a family from Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, whose son was gunned down on Jules Street in Malvern, Joburg, last Saturday.
All Alpheus Khanyile wanted yesterday was to take his 25-year-old son’s remains home for burial.
His son Philani was knocked over and shot dead while walking home.
“They told me that they will perform a post-mortem and I should fetch him on Wednesday.
“We wanted to have the funeral this weekend but now I am told that nothing has been done,” he said.
Outside the mortuary, a hearse that he had hired from his home town sat idle, waiting for him.
“We stay in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and I had to borrow money to get here to fetch my son.
“The funeral service hearse that I have hired, I borrowed the money for it too,” he added.
According to Khanyile, management at the mortuary said Philani’s body was not on the prescribed list that was drawn up for yesterday’s autopsies.
“They told us that 50 bodies have not been attended to and that there are families who have been waiting for over three weeks. So now we are confused about what we must do.
“We are even planning on sleeping here if we have to. We have lost a lot of money and we are unemployed. The funeral parlours, coffin and the funeral cost us over R5 000,” said Khanyile.
An alternative was to request that the body be released for the autopsy to be performed in Estcourt.
Also hit by the mortuary strike, the Mahlanga family likened the mortuaries to prisons for the dead.
“I am afraid to return home to tell them. We heard in the news that the strike was called off, but when we got here, it seems the strike is still continuing or they don’t want to work,” said Melusi Mahlanga.
Mahlanga is the uncle of two-year-old Bonginkosi Mlilo, who died on June 18 after suffering from flu-like symptoms.
“If they don’t want to work, let them give us her body instead of making us suffer.
“We cannot wait any longer because this is becoming a jail for the dead.
“It’s hard because the wound is growing because of this,” Mahlanga added.
Unlike the Khanyile family, the Mahlangas breathed a sigh of relief at about 3pm yesterday after little Bonginkosi’s body was released, ending their twoweek wait.
Mahlanga said he felt a weight lift off his shoulders when he was told that the body had been released.
“I felt like crying because I didn’t believe it when they called out her body number,” he said.
He added that funeral arrangements had been made for tomorrow.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Khaya Xaba confirmed there was no strike or go-slow.
The SA National Defence Force had deployed several of its members to the Hillbrow Forensic Pathology Services to ensure that work continued.
Management of the mortuary refused to comment to The Star following families’ complaints about the service.
The Gauteng Department of Health had not made a comment by the time of publication.
EMOTIONAL TIME: Melusi Mahlanga, uncle of two-year-old Bonginkosi Mlilo, was left waiting for the child’s body to be released from the government mortuary in Joburg for two weeks as a result of the strike.