Funeral company owner under fire after coffin trailer’s wheels come off

The owner of a funeral company whose trailer carrying 42 coffins was stranded on the M1 highway in Johannesburg insists that he had permission to transport bodies.

But city authorities disagree and want a full investigation into the incident on Wednesday.

The wheel of a trailor transporting 42 bodies from Charlotte Maxeke hospital came off on the M1 South highway in Johannesburg on Wednesday, causing a serious health hazard and huge traffic congestion.

Aaron Mabuza‚ who was transporting the coffins‚ conceded that he may have been wrong to use the trailer to carry bodies.

The trailer’s two wheels came off on the M1 South highway‚ while carrying 26 stillborn babies in coffins and 16 adults in body bags and paupers’ coffins. Johannesburg authorities attending to the scene discovered bodies in the trailer. Mabuza said: “I took the paupers from Charlotte Maxeke hospital to bury them at Olifantsfontein Cemetery.”

The adult bodies being transported were to be given paupers’ burials. They had been at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital mortuary for at least six months and were unclaimed or identified‚ said acting CEO of Gauteng Forensic Services Dr Lenny Modisane.

A private undertaker’s vehicle with trailer was carrying 42 bodies from the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital to Olifantsvlei cemetery for pauper’s burials. Image: JMPD

“They stay in mortuaries until a decision is made to bury them when we can’t trace the families.” The stillborn babies were not paupers‚ he confirmed.

The breakdown of the trailer resulted in both the M1 South and North highways being shut during peak afternoon traffic.

Lungela Longwe‚ spokesman for MMC Michael Sun’s office‚ said the “documentation was not correct” for transporting bodies. Sun demanded a full investigation into the event.

“The manner in which the bodies are transported is neither dignified nor hygienic at all‚ least to say shows no respect to the deceased and their families.”

Officials from the City of Johannesburg confirmed the documentation was not correct and “corruption may have been involved”.

In response to comments that his documentation was not correct Mabuza said: “I don’t know what you are talking about‚ I have documents with me.

“They are in body bags from [hospital] fridges. I came with coffins [to hospital].”

Mabuza showed TimesLIVE the paperwork for each body. An official from Charlotte Maxeke had signed off for the bodies to be collected. The identities of some of the bodies were known.

It is his second time fetching bodies from the hospital‚ he said. Mabuza owns Soweto Funeral Services and said he does burial work for different cemeteries.

His workers are temporary and are “neighbours who help me from Klipspruit”. One confirmed it was his first day on the job on Wednesday. The six temporary workers denied allegations from senior insiders that they did not have required gloves and protective gear to work with bodies.

Modisane said health workers were concerned about the safety of deceased bodies on an open road as body fluids were considered to be hazardous material.

Pathologists had pressured police to move the bodies as quickly as possible. But the police had asked the pathology services not to move them immediately so as not to tamper with evidence at a suspected crime scene.

Earlier on Wednesday‚ a senior insider at the City of Johannesburg said pathologists were concerned about a safety hazard if it rained and bodily fluids contaminated the road.

Asked how 42 bodies fitted in a small trailer Mabuza said: “We pack them very nicely. It is a big trailer that one.”

The trailer had a foul smell emanating from it.

BY KATHARINE CHILD – TimesLIVE

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