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Phoenix mortuary 'overrun with flies' as bodies pile up on the floor: Nehawu

27 July 2022 - 13:35
About a dozen bodies lie on the floor at the Phoenix mortuary. Staff say conditions at the facility are unbearable and the department of health is not listening to them.
About a dozen bodies lie on the floor at the Phoenix mortuary. Staff say conditions at the facility are unbearable and the department of health is not listening to them.
Image: Supplied

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in KZN has painted a grim picture of conditions at Phoenix Forensic Mortuary, north of Durban.

They claim unidentified bodies from last year’s July riots and April floods remain unaccounted for as a lack of equipment and tools have left staff unable to do their job.

Staff have complained the facility’s storage capacity has long been exceeded, with bodies lying on the floor since there is no longer space.

Nehawu provincial secretary Ayanda Zulu said among some of the concerns raised were:

  • no proper PPE (gloves, gowns, masks) provided to employees for the past three months;
  • no blades and needles to cut and stitch bodies properly;
  • no chemicals to disinfect the mortuary and control the unbearable smell;
  • the fly catchers are out of order and flies overrun the autopsy room; and
  • drains have been blocked in the autopsy room for months.

The union has raised these matters with senior mortuary officials and district management.

“We are flabbergasted and disappointed with the state and working conditions our members are subjected to at Phoenix Forensic Mortuary. On June 23 the union held a meeting with the eThekwini district management wherein the issue of health and safety was raised.”

Zulu said the meeting with eThekwini management came after an oversight visit to the mortuary by the union’s provincial office bearers on June 18.

“They were left shocked and utterly dismayed at the state of the facility. The storage capacity has long been exceeded, with bodies lying on the floor since there is no longer space in the fridges.”

He claimed staff said there were unidentified bodies from last year’s July unrest and the April floods.

“What is also disappointing is that instead of the department fixing what has been raised, they are now targeting our shop stewards who have been raising these issues. Two of our shop stewards have been suspended.”

It stinks inside. There are a lot of bodies. I’m not sure if this is how it is supposed to be, bodies on the floors and tables
Man at Phoenix mortuary

Zulu said the union had cautioned the department of health about the implications of closing the Gale Street mortuary and the need to urgently address the issue of staff shortages.

Zulu urged health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu to intervene.

Provincial health spokesperson Mdu Ncalane said the department was awaiting a report back from officials before responding to any queries about the mortuary.

When TimesLIVE visited the mortuary on Tuesday afternoon, it was quiet with only a handful of people on the premises.

A man, who preferred not to be named, said he had come to identify the body of his brother.

“It stinks inside. There are a lot of bodies. I’m not sure if this is how it is supposed to be, bodies on the floors and tables. I’ve never been here before, so I don’t know if this is normal.”

Lihle Phewa, 26, said the mortuary already had a bad name after issues of the July unrest.

“I remember during the unrest that this mortuary was full. People were here every day trying to get inside. From what my cousin said, there are still lots of bodies inside there. I am just here to support her. I won’t go inside, I don’t think I will manage.”

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