TIMESLIVE SPECIAL PROJECT | Deaths, funerals and mortuaries during Covid-19

Coffin makers struggle to get a handle on rising demand

'We were not prepared for this — not even the government was'

07 August 2020 - 07:00 By Nonkululeko Njilo and Shonisani Tshikalange
Sam Masango and Mandla Mazibuko, carpenters at Malusi Coffin Manufacturers in Emdeni, Soweto trip of the edges on an already assembled coffin. The manufacturers say demand for coffins and caskets has gone up due to the number of Covid-19 related deaths.
Sam Masango and Mandla Mazibuko, carpenters at Malusi Coffin Manufacturers in Emdeni, Soweto trip of the edges on an already assembled coffin. The manufacturers say demand for coffins and caskets has gone up due to the number of Covid-19 related deaths.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

Coffin makers are frequently working 12-hour days just so they can keep up with soaring demand amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unlike funeral parlours, these manufacturers have not incurred the additional costs of having to use specialised personal protective equipment while handling the dead.

Malusi Coffin Manufacturers in Soweto, which supplies more than 10 major funeral parlours in the country, are putting in extra hours to manufacture caskets.

“It has been really busy. We’ve all started to work up to 12-hour shifts to try and keep up,” said manager Mpumi Bizane, adding that the bulk of orders were for the cheapest coffins.

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One of the challenges the industry is grappling with is a shortage of casket handles, which are not manufactured in the country.

“We will soon run out and we have no idea what will happen after that. We have tried everywhere, with no luck. We are at a point where we no longer manufacture certain caskets because of the handles problem,” said Bizane.

A Durban manufacturer, who preferred not to be identified, echoed similar sentiments.

“We were not prepared for this — not even the government was,” he said.

He said the factory used to produce about 1,500 coffins a month but that figure had shot up to about 2,700.

“We don’t know if it’s because of Covid-19, but the numbers have really surged. We are trying but not coping — and there is a lot of uncertainty with stock we get from suppliers out of the country,” he said.

Elias Ledwaba, a funeral parlour owner in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, said that funerals during the pandemic had changed — and explained that costs had changed, too.

“With the funeral costs it's more of a standard burial cost. The joining fee [for a policy] is R300 with a three-month probation — accidental death is instantly covered,” he said.

“The starting price is R150 per month, where you can have a total of 12 members [including the main member]. A member over 21 costs an extra R20 on the premium, a member over 60 costs an extra R40 on the premium.

“This package is R10,000. It includes the coffin, a coffin spray, a hearse, two family cars, 50 chairs, 50 programmes, a tent, a grave marker and ... two tables.

“If you want a different coffin and it's more expensive than the package, you will pay the difference.” 

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