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3-day shutdown: No burials, warns funeral industry as it demands talks with govt

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File photo: Funeral parlour staff prepare a grave for a victim of Covid-19 at Waterval Cemetery, Johannesburg.

  • 17 funeral associations and forums will close its doors as it wants government to address a long list of grievances.
  • During the shutdown period, starting on Monday, the grouping says there will be no removal of bodies from hospitals or homes and no burials.
  • But South Africa Funeral Practitioners Association deputy president Ndabe Ngcobo says his union will not take part in the “destructive” and “inhumane” action.

The funeral industry is planning a three-day national shutdown of its services in a bid to get government’s attention over a long list of demands it wants addressed.

The call for the shutdown was led by the Unification Task Team (UTT) – a grouping of 17 funeral associations and forums and was planned to begin on Monday, 14 September until Wednesday, 16 September.

During the planned shutdown, there would be no removal of bodies from hospitals or homes and there would be no burials, UTT national coordinator, Peter Matlatle, told News24 on Sunday.

UTT said the South African government had not done enough to ensure the industry was diverse and transformed. It said that since 1994, the industry was still dominated by “white minority capital” and a handful of “black elites”.

“The government of today has lost its capacity to understand the plight and aspirations of the black funeral undertakers, hence deepening neglect, intimidation from the brazen abuse of power by political authorities and the sheer disregard of the voice of black funeral undertakers.

“The South African funeral industry is rooted in the alliance between white minority capital and black elites, as a result, the majority black funeral undertakers are discriminated [against], oppressed and marginalised.

“Funeral undertakers are peaceful and respectable business people who contribute billions of rands to the economy of the Republic of South Africa, through an honest living,” the formation said.

Its long list of demands was directed to several government departments, including: Health, Home Affairs, Small Business Development and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).

The Road Accident Fund, National Consumer Commission and Financial Services Conduct Authority were also included on the list.    

Some of the issues the industry wanted addressed, included the following:

From the Health Department, the UTT wanted the outsourcing of
mortuary facilities to be recognised and legalised, as well as for all
funeral directors sharing storage facility on a lease agreement or
ownership to each qualify for ownership of the certificate of competence
for that particular facility.

From Home Affairs, the UTT wanted annual provincial schedules for the writing of designation number examinations.

It
wanted the department to allow funeral undertakers who didn’t own a
certificate of competence, to write designation number examinations and
for funeral directors to be allowed to appoint a proxy to conduct some
of the duties on their behalf.

From the COGTA department, UTT
wanted municipality bylaws to be amended to accommodate the building of
bulk or cluster or complex storages.

It also wanted government to allocate a Covid-19 Relief Fund for the funeral industry – with immediate effect.

“We
have initially raised this matter to the Minister Dr. Nkosazana
Dlamini-Zuma, National Health Director Mr. Ramathuba and Gauteng Health
MEC Dr Bandile Masuku, in three different meetings, but our plea fell on
deaf ears,” the formation said.

They also said they wanted the tender system to be done away with in the industry.

“We
want the tender system to be abolished in the funeral industry, to
allow families their constitutional right to appoint their preferred
service provider. Where there are no families to choose a service
provider, a rotation database should be applied. No tenders at all.”

The UTT also said it wanted government to consult the industry before making any decisions that may affect it.

“We
want the government to always consult the funeral industry in any event
that seeks to affect the funeral industry directly or indirectly. We
can no longer be asked to comment on drafts that have been discussed and
commissioned in our absence.”From the Small Business
Development Department, it wanted it to channel some of its budget
toward the industry in the form of grants that would assist in
developing small and emerging funeral undertakers.

“We want
government to introduce programmes that seeks to assist struggling
funeral undertakers who were previously disadvantaged particularly
black-owned funeral undertakers, for them to be able to comply with the
requirements. Not shut them down.”

‘Destructive and inhumane’

The South African Funeral Practitioners Association (SAFPA) had, however, said it would not be taking part in the national shutdown.

SAFPA’s deputy president Ndabe Ngcobo said the association would not take part in the “destructive” and “inhumane” action.

“We are dealing with lifeless bodies. This approach is too radical for our industry. Not collecting a body even for a day is a disaster; how much more for three days. This is inhumane and destructive,” Ngcobo told News24.

“While it should be noted that SAFPA is part of the UTT and acknowledges the legitimacy of some of the grievances raised by UTT in the communique dated 7 September 2020, SAFPA will, however, not be part of the shutdown.

“We are an organisation that promotes adherence to regulation compliance and we believe there are other avenues that can be explored to address the challenges we face as undertakers in South Africa.”

The plans for the shutdown were as follows:

1. The total national shutdown would commence at midnight on Monday, 14 September 2020, across the country.

2. All funeral activities would be non-operational across the country.

3. Peaceful demonstrations from funeral undertakers must be visible and effective at the vicinity of hospitals, mortuaries, cemeteries and everywhere else possible.

4. Families must call SAPS to request and escort forensic personnel for corpse removals at homes.

5. Funeral undertaker offices must be closed.

6. Tombstones must not be erected.

7. Funeral suppliers must not sell or deliver coffins and funeral equipment.

8. Funeral industry workers must stay away from work. 

9. Protesters must wear masks and maintain social distancing.

Government spokesperson Phumla Williams was not immediately available for comment. Her comments would be added once received.

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