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Lost or mixed up corpses double the trauma for grieving East London families

The trend of undertakers mixing up dead bodies is on the uptick as strain on the sector increases with the steep rise in Covid-19 deaths.
The trend of undertakers mixing up dead bodies is on the uptick as strain on the sector increases with the steep rise in Covid-19 deaths.
Image: 123rf/dolgachov

Double the trauma and tragedy. That is how families describe the horrors of mixed up or lost corpses.  

The trend of undertakers mixing up dead bodies is on the uptick as strain on the sector increases with the steep rise in Covid-19 deaths.

In the past two weeks, at least three families in the Buffalo City metro in the Eastern Cape have suffered a parlour or mortuary losing their loved one’s corpse or found themselves burying the wrong body.

This means at least six bodies have been buried by the wrong family in a fortnight.

And there is no recourse, according to Funeral Industry Regulatory Authority chair Johan Rosseau, who said the organisation had dealt with five missing corpses in three weeks in the metro.

Rousseau said: “The unfortunate thing is that families have no recourse because there is no ombudsman, as proposed by ourselves.”

The double tragedy of losing a mother and later her body befell a Mdantsane family on Saturday, the day she was supposed to be buried. The corpse of matriarch Lindiwe Landu was allegedly lost by Nomtshongwana funeral undertakers. They have denied it.

The family of Nomawethu Mbishi-Mnyobe of Ncera buried the wrong body last Monday and now they have to prepare for another burial, for the real Nomawethu, on Wednesday.

The Landu and Mbishi-Mnyobe families’ experiences raise questions about the practices of East London funeral parlours and mortuaries, the industry’s lack of regulation, and the co-operative governance department’s decision to ban viewings at funerals if the deceased had Covid-19.

Lindiwe’s body is believed to have been buried by a family in Dimbaza, about 8km from her Mdantsane home, at the weekend.

The other family will now also have to search for their loved one and hold another funeral.

Sandiswa Landu, Lindiwe’s daughter, who travelled from Cape Town for the funeral, blames Nomtshongwana undertakers.

The Landus became suspicious when the parlour told them on Wednesday they could not dress Lindiwe’s body in her beloved church clothes, instead arranging for the family to change her on Friday.

Sandiswa said: “Friday came and instead they came to the house and asked to speak to my father privately and told him they would dress her because they didn’t want us to experience further pain.

“Our father told us that they came to apologise because they buried our mother in Dimbaza and that she was mixed up with the body of a person who died of Covid-19.”

She said when the family pressed them about the bungle, the parlour representatives blamed their intern.

Sandiswa added: “They also refused our insistence to accompany them to the Dimbaza grave.”

Nonetheless, the Landus visited a graveyard in Dimbaza, where they coincidentally met the family they believe buried their mother.

“The family told us Nomtshongwana arrived at their home at 1am on Saturday, where he told them of the mix-up. They refused to hand over the body without a court order.”

When contacted by DispatchLIVE, Nqonqo Nomtshongwana said: “It’s lost? That’s the first time I hear about it.”

When DispatchLIVE gave her the Landu family’s name, she hung up.

Rousseau said: “They now have to go to great expense in appointing a lawyer in assisting them, and some lawyers don’t know a thing about the funeral industry.

“It boils down to inefficient regulations, lack of training and controls, and incorrect PPE being used by the hospitals because they use incorrect procedures and products, making it virtually impossible for a parlour to identify a deceased.”

He said a big problem was there was no entity to advise the government about the handling of remains, and no authority in place with the necessary knowledge and experience.

“That's why [the Funeral Industry Regulatory Authority] was in the Eastern Cape over the past three weeks.”


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