THE funeral industry and religious and political fraternity have come down hard on the provincial Health Department for its poor control of State mortuaries following a Daily Dispatch exposé yesterday.

Responding to the report, which revealed the horrors at our State mortuaries, Reverend Mpumelelo Qwabaza, the provincial chief executive officer of the SA Council of Churches (SACC), said Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana, together with mortuary managers, owed the province an explanation.

“The department must not shift the blame because it is their duty to monitor the mortuaries,” he said. “The managers must also account for the problems in our mortuaries.

“This is an insult and an embarrassment to a province that already has lots of problems.”

Qwabaza said such inhumane treatment of the deceased was against all religious beliefs.

“It was painful and shocking to know that our loved ones go through that treatment. Those people might be dead in flesh but their spirits are alive; perhaps it explains why our province is in this shocking state.”

During its month-long investigation, the Dispatch visited 12 mortuaries across the province, discovering shocking conditions at most of them.

Issues included poor health standards as a result of negligence by staff, poor management, a shortage of equipment and a lack of respect in handling the deceased.

Barry van Rensburg, owner of Martins Funerals in East London, said bad management was the reason why State mortuaries in the province were collapsing. “It is very bad, in fact horrifying, to find our people being treated like that,” he said.

“Most people don’t know because visitors are kept in the reception area and they never really get to see what happens behind the closed doors of the mortuary.

“The managers must answer because this cannot happen in this day and age.”

Mzamo Ngcawana, owner of Ngcawana Funeral Service, said mortuary managers needed more training to properly control the facilities.

“Clearly, they don’t know how to manage and are not equipped [for the position], which raises the question on how they received their positions,” he said.

Political parties echoed these sentiments, calling for the Department of Health to take urgent action to clean up the mess.

DA MPL John Cupido said the poor state of mortuaries showed the department’s total disregard for offering basic services to the people.

“The Democratic Alliance (DA) is shocked, but not surprised, by the findings of the Daily Dispatch investigation of the state of the State morgues in the Eastern Cape and believes that the Health Department is, in fact, the rotting corpse itself,” said Cupido.

“As shocking as it is to see the photograph of the dead baby simply discarded in a trash bucket, the larger, hard-hitting shock is the realisation of how far backwards the state of public healthcare has regressed in the Eastern Cape over the last few years.

“As shocking as it is, it does not come as a surprise, because in the space of the last two months the department has proven that it does not care for the mentally handicapped, mothers going through labour, newborn infants and hospital patients in general.”

Archie Ralo, provincial secretary of the Congress of the People, said the department was failing its people.

“Our health system is collapsing and needs urgent intervention,” he said. “This is not a cheap political shot to the ruling party because this is a matter that affects all of us.”