Thousands of undertakers have called for a nationwide shutdown of all funeral parlours on Monday but the sector is divided over the move.
A unification task team formed by undertaker forums and other formations said there would be demonstrations in all public facilities and mortuaries nationwide by more than 3,000 members participating in the strike.
It has a list of demands for the departments of health, home affairs and environmental affairs.
National Funeral Practitioners Association of SA president Muzi Hlengwa said there would be no removal of bodies from hospitals or homes, no burials and no funeral supplies.
Hlengwa said the funeral industry had been “reasonably patient” with the government, but had now lost patience with nothing but “empty promises”. “We need transformation in this industry and we need it now.”
As well as transformation, the task team is demanding the amendment of municipal bylaws to accommodate the building of bulk, cluster or complex storages, it wants the government to allocate a Covid-19 relief fund for the funeral industry with immediate effect and it wants undertakers to claim from and be paid directly by the Road Accident Fund using a session agreement.
Said Hlengwa: “We want the tender system 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,” he said.
Health department spokesperson Popo Maja said health facilities did not release human remains to private funeral undertakers unless they produced a certificate of competence.
“Recently, there have been reports of challenges in relation to removal and collection of human remains from health facilities to private mortuaries or funeral undertakers’ premises by private funeral undertakers and agents,” he said.
Maja said the regulations forbade anyone from preparing or storing human remains except on approved funeral undertakers’ premises or mortuaries, and this involved a certificate of competence issued by the local authority.
“District and metropolitan municipalities, through their municipal health services units, have powers to monitor compliance of mortuaries and funeral undertakers’ premises with the regulations and ensure possession of a certificate of competence for protection of public health,” Maja said.
“We cannot say with certainty what will be the implications of the threatened strike. Anyone who obstructs public officials performing their duties will be dealt with within relevant laws of the country.”
The owner of an East London funeral supplier, who is not being named for his own safety, said his company would continue to operate, but as a precautionary measure all the company’s cars had been parked in a safe place. This follows rumours that those who refused to answer the call to strike would find their cars damaged.
“I belong to the SA Funeral Practitioners Association and our organisation has resolved not to strike. I’m bound by any decision they make,” he said.
“I have retrieved all my vehicles from out there because when people strike they damage property. So all our cars are now parked somewhere safe. There was a video circulated on social media saying if a hearse was seen operating it would be burnt. It was hard work to build this business, just to lose assets in this way.”
The Funeral Federation of SA, which represents nine other associations, issued a statement over the weekend saying they, too, would not support the shutdown.
They said their decision was based on the fact that they were an essential service and assisted the public in times of need.
“Having said this, we acknowledge that the list of demands that have been put forward are reasonable. We believe these demands should be addressed by government. We further acknowledge that the industry needs to be properly regulated,” reads the statement.
It was unfortunate the government was “sometimes hard of hearing” it added.
“It is our view that this is a government that the majority of South Africans have voted for and that there should be no need to shut down anything, if only there was constructive engagement between the industry and the various government departments that impact on us.”
Amagasela Funeral Parlour supervisor Lwazi Tuwe confirmed they were aware of the shutdown, but said he did not have many details. Tuwe said Amagasela’s actions would be guided by those of their competitors in the industry.
“We are aware of the strike and we know that the strike has its own rules and we would not want our business’s assets to be damaged by our colleagues because we were operating during strike action. So if the strike takes place on Monday, we will join the strike action,” said Tuwe.