Bodies sold for R150 at Bara
FOR R50, unscrupulous undertakers can buy a list of all the patients who died at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital the night before.
Mortuary staff at the hospital - the biggest on the continent - are accused of colluding with unregistered funeral undertakers, who, using the list, approach families of the deceased to sell them funeral packages even before the hospital has notified the family of the death.
This practice has enraged the Soweto region of the South African Funeral Practitioners Association, which said the practice had come to its attention.
The association added that this was tarnishing the image of legal undertakers.
The association's spokesman, Monageng Legae, said the undertakers involved were not registered with them and lacked the requisite facilities such as storage and refrigerators.
An undertaker, who refused to be named, said undertakers camp at the hospital and wait for the night shift staff to give them the lists of those who had died.
They then use the list, which has next-of-kin details, to contact the families of the dead. They then accompany the deceased's family back to the hospital to identify the body and to have the body released to them.
They offer them burial packages, with many extras they fail to provide.
The source said the unscrupulous undertakers pay R50 to get the list and then pay R150 to get the body from mortuary workers.
The undertaker sent Sowetan a text message with a list of 20 people who had died and claimed to have received it from his source at the mortuary yesterday.
"These are the people who died in the hospital at the weekend."
The list has names with different addresses in Soweto. But there were no signs of bereavement at the addresses Sowetan visited on Monday this week.
The undertaker said he no longer wanted to be part of the syndicate because it tarnished the name of the industry.
He said some illegal undertakers were able to conduct burials by using legal operators' facilities.
"The illegal operators rent facilities such as storage and refrigerators from those who operate legally. They use the registration papers of those who are legal and pay them. But this sometimes leads to tension because these legal operators want to take over the burial once they have the body."
Legae said: "We have tried to secure a meeting with Chris Hani Baragwanath management to stop this. We have not been able to get that meeting. We are waiting to meet with them because we suspect they are not aware of this."
Funeral undertakers register with Johannesburg City Parks, which oversees cemeteries.
Hospital chief executive Johanna More said she was not aware of the scheme.
"If somebody dies in a ward, a nurse on the shift should inform the family who are then expected to come to the hospital to identity and confirm that the body is theirs."
More promised to investigate "the matter". She said she did not have knowledge of the meeting the undertakers' association claimed it had been trying to secure.
Legae said it had raised the matter with deputy director of patient affairs Tebogo Mkhwanazi.
More said Mkhwanazi also did not know about the meeting.
Legae said the association was willing to give the names of those who traded in dead bodies to More.
More said: "When I came to Bara in 2009, I was told of such incidents. I called a meeting with staff, funeral undertakers and police. I told them it had to stop. If it has been happening, I am not aware of it. As far as I know, it is not. Those who claim they know people who do this must come forward with information and I will investigate."
An authentic burial package would cost about R4,000.
The source said illegal undertakers, "once they have the body, they cut out some items in the package and demand more money, even doubling the initial price".
"If the family wants to remove the body to another undertaker, they normally demand a release fee of R2,000.
"This is capitalising on the emotions of people.
"Some people have burial societies, they do not need these undertakers."