We just wanted him to have a dignified funeral, says KZN family who took body to Old Mutual

20 November 2019 - 17:02 By LWANDILE BHENGU

After waiting for more than 48 hours for a funeral policy payout, a desperate Thandaza Mtshali did the only thing she thought would make Old Mutual pay out a funeral policy for her uncle's funeral: she took his body to their office.

Mtshali and her aunt, Ntombenhle Mhlongo, were captured in a video that has since gone viral, dropping off Sifiso Mtshali's body at an Old Mutual branch in KwaDukuza, north of Durban, on Friday.

Mtshali told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that her uncle died after a long illness on Thursday November 7. She put in a claim with the financial services company on Monday November 11. 

“I put through a claim on the Monday and they told me that it was already after 1pm and that they would process my claim only the next day, and I understood. They said I would have the money after 48 hours,” she said.

Thandaza Mtshali pays tribute to her late uncle, Sifiso Mtshali. The family took his body to the KwaDukuza office of Old Mutual in frustration after the company told them there would be a delay in the insurance payout.
Thandaza Mtshali pays tribute to her late uncle, Sifiso Mtshali. The family took his body to the KwaDukuza office of Old Mutual in frustration after the company told them there would be a delay in the insurance payout.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

On Tuesday November 12, Mtshali received an SMS, seen by TimesLIVE, saying there would be a delay in the payout and that further assessments needed to be done. There was no explanation for this. 

“They have never till this day explained what caused the delay. They said all my documents were in order,” she said.

She claimed that when she asked on Thursday why the claim had been delayed, an employee told them to borrow money to pay for the funeral because their claim was still being assessed. This frustrated and angered the family.

“I saw it fit to take the body to them while they were doing their assessment, because that could have taken months. I saw it best for them to figure out where they put the body - as long as they kept it safe and it didn't rot,” said Mtshali.

“I am unemployed and I don't have any other money. We are not a rich family; we are struggling. The money I paid was from my children's grant. I did not want the embarrassment of an undignified funeral just because we are poor. I want to give my family dignified funerals and they [Old Mutual] failed me.”

After arranging with a local mortuary, Mtshali and Mhlongo took the body to the Old Mutual offices. She said after speaking to an employee, they received payment in less than an hour and were able to bury Sifiso on Sunday.

The banking and insurance group came under fire on Tuesday when the video was circulated on social media.

Clarence Nethengwe, MD of Old Mutual mass and foundation cluster, said the claim was lodged on Monday November 11. It was then referred for further assessment and paid out on Friday November 15.

The claim was not delayed because Old Mutual doubted that a death had occurred, said Nethengwe, but rather because it was referred for further individual assessment.

“Although every attempt was made to settle the claim as speedily as possible, we are deeply sorry for the delay. We are committed to doing better and we will be taking steps to accelerate and improve the way we verify those claims that need to be assessed further. Old Mutual will also continue to engage the family and provide any necessary support," said Nethengwe.

“Although most claims are paid on time and delays are rare, it is clear that we need to make our additional claims assessment processes easier and faster to ensure we do not let any of our customers down in their time of greatest need.

"While more than 99% of our valid funeral claims are paid out within the contracted 48 hours, we must strive to make that 100%.” 

Meanwhile, the president of the National Funeral Practitioners Association of SA (Nafupa SA), Muzi Hlengwa, confirmed that they would be seeking legal action against Old Mutual for the pain and suffering the Mtshali family endured.

“I need them to pay for the abuse and pain they put me through. They took advantage of me because they saw I was young, black and unemployed,” said Mtshali.

The MEC for social development in the province, Nonhlanhla Khoza, said her department was “shocked and disgusted” by the events of the video and the treatment of the family.

“We are really taken aback by this incident. The action of the insurance company is sickening. Clearly, there are a number of other families who go through this trauma when they are supposed to be given money to bury their loved ones,” said Khoza.

“The circulation of this video on social media shows the plight that our communities have to go through. Old Mutual inflicted much pain to this family after losing their loved one.”

The MEC is expected to visit the family on Thursday.