Military deployed to help at mortuaries in Gauteng

15 June 2017 - 12:18 By Neo Goba
Ina Botes, manager of the Johannesburg Forensic Services walks through the mortuary in Hillbrow. File photo. Image: Alon Skuy
Ina Botes, manager of the Johannesburg Forensic Services walks through the mortuary in Hillbrow. File photo. Image: Alon Skuy

The defence force has deployed medical officers to perform autopsies as bereaved families clamour to retrieve the bodies of loved ones from strike-hit mortuaries in Gauteng.

Ten operational emergency care practitioners from the SA National Defence Force are working at mortuaries in Hillbrow‚ Germiston and Diepkloof.

Bodies have not been released from the facilities due to a strike by forensic pathology officers demanding better remuneration‚ counselling sessions‚ a danger allowance and the reinstatement of debriefing sessions from the department of health.

The strike has caused untold anguish.

Some families gathered outside the locked mortuaries earlier in the week‚ pleading for the bodies of loved ones to be released so they could be given a dignified burial.

One family has to drive at least 1700 km to repatriate a relative's body to Zimbabwe.

"The situation here is quite pathetic. My mother-in-law was shot and killed his morning and her body was collected by forensic pathology officers around 1am. We were hoping to have the funeral this weekend but without the … autopsy there is absolutely nothing we can do‚" said Tiger Godfrey Kareche‚ who stays in Esselenpark‚ Tembisa.

Forensic pathology officers have been on strike for two weeks at more than a dozen mortuaries across the province.

"We have been here since 6am in an effort to try and retrieve the body so that we can repatriate it to Zimbabwe‚ but we discovered that there's an ongoing strike. We are being held to ransom for something we have nothing to do with and it would appear that the authorities are giving us aggrieved families the cold shoulder‚" said Kareche.

The cost to repatriate the body to Inyanga‚ in a rural part of Zimbabwe‚ would be between R17‚000 and R24‚000 with a private vehicle‚ said Kareche.

At least 30 families from different parts of the country arrived at a mortuary in Germiston on Wednesday.

Sandile Gwala‚ who is based in Johannesburg but hails from Maphephetheni‚ north of Durban‚ said all they wanted was the body of his late friend Ndabezinhle Cedric Mthethwa‚ so that they could arrange to have a post-mortem done in Durban. Mthethwa died on Friday evening after a brief illness.

"Upon our arrival yesterday‚ the pathologist officers informed us that they are on strike and nobody has been assessed and gone for a post-mortem. We then enquired about how long the strike would last and we were told that it could go on for a week or even two weeks‚" said a visibly angry Gwala.

Friday is a public holiday and Gwala said the downing of tools by forensic staff had inconvenienced the family as funeral preparations were put on hold while they waited for a death certificate.

Alfred Ngwenya‚ a father of six girls and four boys‚ has been at the Germiston Forensic Pathology Laboratory in Ekurhuleni trying to collect the body of his three year-old daughter‚ Tamia.

The family had already postponed Tamia’s burial over the weekend due to the strike. They had postponed it to Wednesday and have been forced to postpone it again.

“The South African National Defence Force understands the anguish faced by loved ones when they are unable to finalise and prepare to bid their dearly departed a timely and befitting farewell‚” said a statement from Department of Defence spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini.

He said extra military healthcare practitioners would be sent if needed.

Gauteng MEC for Health Dr Gwen Ramokgopa met with the families last Friday at the Diepkloof centre‚ where some staff had been held hostage during the strike.

After her intervention‚ five autopsies were conducted and the bodies released to their families.

- TimesLIVE