Too broke to bury their dead

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

Hundreds of families in KwaZuluNatal are battling to give their loved ones dignified funerals.

Private funeral parlours serving mainly the African community report that more than 40 percent of the corpses remain unclaimed owing to high poverty levels.

On average corpses are left in private mortuaries for more than three months.

In the past month at least 15 families had to receive government and private sector help to bury their loved ones.

To add to the problem, incidents of the elderly falling prey to scam funeral schemes are also on the rise.

Novazz Funeral Service spokesman Bheki Dlamini says the story is the same for most who can't afford to pay for the funerals.

"Many are poor and unemployed," Dlamini says. "We also have many instances in which senior citizens, who save for their funerals from their pension money, are robbed by companies offering funeral schemes.

"These companies sometimes refuse to pay in time or end up paying less."

He said more than 40 percent of the unclaimed corpses are given pauper's burials.

The director of the First Class funeral service, Siboniso Ndlela, says: "Some corpses are kept in our fridges for more that three months because their families cannot afford to bury them.

"I believe the government should come up with a funeral scheme to assist the poor or even choose a list of companies that can provide the service."

He says burials are "expensive" and those who take out funeral cover end up paying more with each passing year.

"As the years go by the premiums increase but the income remains the same."

Last month four families came to Sowetan asking for help.

The premier's office and Social Development Department stepped in to assist them

The department receives at least 10 requests for assistance every month.

The department says local municipalities also have programmes to help the needy.

Metropolitan Life consultant Makhosi Mkhize says it is time for the private sector to help.

He says he recently helped two families whose relatives had lay for " weeks in the mortuaries" .

"It's our social responsibility to plough back to the people."