Public Eye (South Africa)

Residents to take municipali­ty to court over non-functionin­g crematoria

- Prashalan Govender

Fed up with mismanagem­ent, and scandal - even sacrilege - around the Mountain Rise Cemetery and Crematoriu­m, a group of residents now plan to take the Msunduzi Municipali­ty to court over the matter.

For years Mountain Rise hasn’t had a functionin­g crematoriu­m. To get around the problem, people have had to travel to Cato Ridge and Durban to have their deceased cremated, incurring significan­t costs and inconvenie­nce in the process. It has been particular­ly painful for Hindus for whom last rites prescribe cremation and for generation­s have used the facility that was funded by the community.

In the foyer of the crematoriu­m, two plaques recognise the rich history behind the facility that was built by the Veda Dharma Sabha in 1928 and was funded by donors and managed by the organisati­on until the early 1990s when a decision was taken to hand the asset to the new democratic­ally elected and non racial town council. The second plaque recognises the financial contributi­on of prominent Hindu families - the Nankans and Hiralalls’ - who funded the constructi­on of the extension of the assembly hall.

Given the current state of the crematoria, the Hindu community has questioned and repeatedly asked that the facility be handed back to them, as it has been plagued by mismanagem­ent and scandal, including the use of a calf to test whether the incinerato­r that had been installed instead of a furnace, was operationa­l. Cows are sacred to Hindus and the use of the animal was considered sacrilegio­us and deeply offensive. The municipali­ty also battled to maintain adequate gas reserves and on at least two occasions the incinerato­rs stopped working midway through cremations. The families of the deceased had to wait several hours at the crematoriu­m with the half-cremated bodies until electricit­y supply was restored to complete the process.

Community newspaper The Public Eye and The Witness have reported extensivel­y on the problems and efforts by the Midlands Hindu Society (MHS) and the Msunduzi Crematoriu­m and Cemeteries Concerned Citizens Committee (MCCCCC), which was formed in 2012, to lobby for the facility to be handed back to the community to manage and run as a not-for-profit entity.

“MHS has been in discussion­s with the municipali­ty via an organisati­on called Msunduzi Crematoriu­m and Cemeteries Concerned Citizens Committee (MCCCCC),”SAID President of the Midlands Hindu Society (MHS) Ranjiv Nirghin.

“(It) included members of the Msunduzi Rates Forum that initially made progress with the upgrades of the crematoria and with the municipali­ty buying new machines, creating the new slipway, installing a prayer place and a driveway canopy, new toilets, and washing facilities and upgrading the security including the fencing of the cemetery.” However, it was not long before problems arose once again.

“The new machines, fitted by the municipali­ty, did not work properly from inception and had constant breakdowns and lacked service and maintenanc­e,” said Nirghin.

“We asked for the crematoriu­m to be privatised as we wanted to run it on a nonprofit basis for the benefit of the community irrespecti­ve of their religion, in a similar way that the Muslim Cemetery is run, “he said.

“The municipali­ty decided that the only way that they could hand over management of the crematoriu­m was via a tender process so that all interested parties could participat­e in the process. In the first round during 2021, MHS submitted an NPO tender under MCCCCC and we were not successful because we did not meet the requiremen­ts set by the municipali­ty. The tender was re-advertised on the same terms in 2023 and other organizati­ons tendered.”

Nirghin said the tender has still not been awarded and that the machines in Crematoriu­m Two have not been repaired as yet.

“Crematoriu­m One has not been functional since January and when it was functional it could only handle one cremation every 4 hours,” he said.

Nirghin said that the lack of crematoria services in Pietermari­tzburg was “a violation of our Human Rights to practice our religious beliefs in performing the last rites of our loved ones.”

He said that the MHS was still in discussion­s with the Municipali­ty to either repair the crematoriu­m urgently or allow MHS to run the crematoriu­m on a non-profit basis for the community.

Now, a community group is throwing its weight behind efforts to restore the service to the community, and is prepared to take the battle to court.

Former city council member Lucky Naicker and South African Minority Rights Equality Movement (SAMREM) chairperso­n Daleep Lutchman said concerned residents from various stakeholde­r groups met last Wednesday at the Eddels Sports and Social Club to reach a consensus on a way to get the crematoriu­m functionin­g again.

Naicker started the meeting by declaring that Pietermari­tzburg had a “crematoriu­m in name only.”

Visibly upset and openly emotional about the contentiou­s issues, various stakeholde­rs spoke about the anguish the current situation was having on bereaved families - many of whom cannot afford to travel to Cato Ridge and pay the high fees being charged.

Given the exhaustive efforts already made, the concerned residents felt a court challenge was now the only route left.

Attorney Surendra Singh has agreed to offer legal guidance on the matter for free. He said he would not be filing an interdict as “the matter has been in limbo for years now”.

“It will have to be an applicatio­n in the long form as it is not an urgent issue,” Singh said. He hopes that, after the filing of papers, the matter will be presented to a full bench and not one judge. He added that “a court applicatio­n takes time as the High Court roll is full.”

“One has to secure an applicatio­n date which should be about three months from now,” he said. He added that it was too early to say what the applicatio­n would entail. Singh said that he had offered his expertise as “a functional crematoriu­m is not a privilege but a right.”

All ward councilors and some officials from the municipali­ty were reportedly invited to the meeting. However, when Public Eye attended the meeting, no municipal officials were present. Only councillor­s Garth Middleton and Rooksana Ahmed attended.

The municipali­ty has not yet responded to requests for comment on the issue.

 ?? ?? Pictured (left to right): Daleep Lutchman and Lucky Naicker point to a tree growing from the roof of one of the crematoria as evidence of neglect.
Photo: Prashalan Govender
Pictured (left to right): Daleep Lutchman and Lucky Naicker point to a tree growing from the roof of one of the crematoria as evidence of neglect. Photo: Prashalan Govender
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