Two out of three funeral parlours operate illegally

22 November 2017 - 06:54 By Farren Collins, Olivia Decelles, Nico Gous and Naledi Shange
DEATH   This is the pauper section of the Olifantsvlei Cemetery, which is slowly filling up. These graves are for corpses that have not been claimed by family members and are buried by the government Picture: Kabelo Mokoena
DEATH This is the pauper section of the Olifantsvlei Cemetery, which is slowly filling up. These graves are for corpses that have not been claimed by family members and are buried by the government Picture: Kabelo Mokoena

At least two in three funeral parlours are believed to be operating illegally in an industry with an estimated value of between R3-billion and R5-billion, says Funeral Federation of SA president Lawrence Konyana.

The funeral industry has come under scrutiny after 42 corpses were left stranded on the M1 highway in Johannesburg on Wednesday last week after the trailer transporting them lost a wheel. The bodies of 16 adults and 26 stillborn babies were bound for Olifantsvlei Cemetery, south of Johannesburg. The adults were to be given paupers' burials.

Konyana said there was no code of conduct for the funeral industry. He said there were about 10,000 certified funeral operators in the country. Another 20,000 undertakers were operating illegally.

Municipalities award certificates of competence to undertakers, based on their meeting the regulations stipulated in the Health Act about the management of cadavers, the conditions of funeral undertakers' premises and mortuaries, transportation, burial and exhumation.

"[The certificate] stipulates what is needed in terms of refrigeration, flooring and other things on the parlour premises," Konyana said.

Undertakers needed a designation number from the Department of Home Affairs that allows them to get a death certificate on behalf of the families.

Konyana said the federation was drafting a code of conduct that it would present to the National Consumer Commission.

"The government does not have the capacity to regulate everything."

Funeral Industry Regulatory Authority chairman Johan Rousseau said an ombudsman was necessary to protect the public. "We need a single law and agency to be established to regulate the funeral service sector."

Avbob senior management said last week that the funeral sector needed to be regulated.

Corporate affairs and marketing general manager Adriaan Bester said "unfortunately in many, many areas there is just no enforcement" of legislation and regulations.

Avbob chairman Piet Delport said there had been a pushback from the smaller funeral undertakers, because they believe bigger companies wanted to secure their market share.

"All the guys are saying: 'You're big. You've got the money. You've got the resources.' Us small guys, we can't afford generators."

The owners of the trailer used by Aaron Mabuza, of Soweto Funeral Services, last week said they were shocked to hear the wheel had come off.

"Undertakers do hire trailers all the time but we gave him this specific trailer thinking he may be fetching coffins from the factory. But there are closed trailers we have that can be used for corpses," said Bongiwe Ndleleni of F Gaba Trailers.

The Department of Health said the outcomes of an investigation into the incident would be made public on Thursday, the same day the paupers' burial will take place.

According to the regulations of the National Health Act 61 of 2003, when funeral undertakers transport a corpse it must be:

  • Put in a polythene bag;
  • Sealed in an airtight container;
  • Placed in a sturdy non-transparent sealed coffin;
  • Embalmed and/or covered with 5cm of wood sawdust or other absorbent material which is treated with a disinfectant;
  • A medical practitioner must declare the corpse is not a health hazard; and
  • This declaration must be transported with the body at all times.
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