Buhle Bhengu's family concede to cremation due to international health protocols

13 March 2019 - 08:15 By Karabo Ledwaba and TimesLIVE
Buhle Bhengu died of highly infectious TB while working on a cruise ship.
Buhle Bhengu died of highly infectious TB while working on a cruise ship.
Image: Buhle Bhengu via Facebook

SA's department of international relations and cooperation has announced that Buhle Bhengu’s body would be cremated in the Bahamas because of international health standards and safety concerns over her body being repatriated.

Bhengu, 30, from Umlazi near Durban, died a month ago, after having fallen sick with what seemed to be TB. She worked as a waitress on a cruise ship owned by international company MSC.

“The cremation was recommended by the local authorities in the Bahamas, citing health and safety concerns.

“Minister [Lindiwe] Sisulu has also extended her gratitude to the Bhengu family for their understanding that their daughter’s mortal remains could not be repatriated to South Africa due to international health standards to which both South Africa and The Bahamas subscribe,” the department said. 

Her aunt, Mbali Bhengu, told the Sowetan they had been left with no choice but to accept the cremation of her body, despite this being in conflict with Zulu cultural practices.

“We do not accept cremation but we are left with no choice because they will not release her body,” she said.

An online petition had been created on Change.org to lobby for Bhengu's remains to be repatriated.

Njabulo Cele shared on the page that the Bhengu family were grateful for the public support they had received, and for the official help that South African diplomats had provided.

"We would like to inform everyone that the family members [who travelled to] the Bahamas finally had a meeting with the government officials in Nassau, accompanied by a South African government official from Jamaica to try and reach a solution regarding the remains of Buhle.

"After hours of engagements it was finally agreed that unfortunately the body of Nobuhle would not be able to be transported to South Africa for many reasons, including the fact that the Bahamian officials claimed that it is the first time that such a matter has occurred and that they do not have the necessary equipment to facilitate such a process, as it not only requires approval from other states to receive the body and link it to South Africa, but also that they do not have the necessary certification to proceed with such a process as they were willing to cooperate and release the body."

The family dispute that she died of TB and had wanted to view her body for themselves. This will now happen.

Cele said: "It has been agreed that the family will get to view/identify the body and that other members of the family will be given time to fly to the Bahamas with the hope that they will be in the Bahamas, view Buhle and say their goodbyes, because unfortunately they have been given a deadline of three days of which today (Tuesday) is the first day, and Thursday is the last day that they will be afforded an opportunity to see her before her cremation, which will be on Thursday.

"Cremation has since been the only solution that would afford the family to bring Buhle home and bury her remains (ashes) next to her mother.

"Although many questions still remain unanswered, the family hopes that once they are all in the Bahamas, they will get a full explanation as to the why and how it got to this as they feel that proper communication would have brought solutions quicker."

A memorial service and prayers are being arranged.