It’s terrible, say workers as more bodies clog morgue

The bodies are piling up at the Phoenix mortuary where workers have been suspended allegedly for not wanting to work without protective gear. | Supplied

The bodies are piling up at the Phoenix mortuary where workers have been suspended allegedly for not wanting to work without protective gear. | Supplied

Published May 10, 2024


Durban — As more bodies stack up at the Phoenix Government Mortuary, staffers and a labour union are angry over the appalling conditions they face at the mortuary.

Adding to the strain on the mortuary was the closure of the Gale Street Mortuary in 2020, by the provincial Department of Health.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) visited the “crisis-hit” Phoenix mortuary on Wednesday.

Its provincial secretary Ayanda Zulu described the state of the mortuary as “hopeless and appalling”.

“The situation is deteriorating and no one seems to be doing anything.

“Workers are forced into a desperate situation just because the government does not want to fix the mortuary. The situation there is hopeless and appalling,” said Zulu.

The union made impassioned calls for the Department of Health to fix the many problems at the mortuary.

Painting a grim picture, Zulu said uncollected bodies were piling up, and it was becoming more and more unbearable for workers.

He said their visit was triggered by repeated pleas by workers for the union to intervene.

“People are struggling to work under those conditions and we plead with the Department of Health to sort the mess out.

“With so many bodies remaining uncollected, some are now placed on the floor and are decomposing, leading to a terrible stench,” said Zulu.

He said that the mortuary was certified to accommodate 500 bodies, but the number of uncollected bodies lying in it was way above the limit.

He alleged that drains were blocked, leading to water overflowing in some parts of the mortuary.

Zulu said they would approach the courts to force the department to remedy the situation.

“We are not letting the government off the hook on this matter. The lives of our members who work there are at risk and we will not allow something like this to happen unabated,” said Zulu.

Zulu said it was untoward that the government did nothing to fix the mess at the mortuary.

Making matters worse were the uncollected bodies of the people who died during the July 2021 unrest, which caused anarchy, looting, destruction of businesses and infrastructure, and the deaths of hundreds of people.

This was after many went on a rampage following former president Jacob Zuma’s dramatic arrest.

A worker who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals told the Daily News that their lives were at risk as the situation continued to worsen at the mortuary.

“Spending a day there is unbearable. Many people have resigned, while many have fallen sick due to the conditions there,” said the worker.

The worker who is close to retiring, said they were thinking of taking early retirement because of the worsening conditions at the mortuary.

“Working there is just traumatic. I am seriously thinking of just taking my early retirement. I can’t take it anymore,” said the worker.

Another worker said: “The government is showing that it does not care about its workers. No person in their right mind can justify allowing people to work in such perilous conditions.”

The Daily News’ attempts to enter the mortuary were thwarted by the security guards who would not grant permission to the mortuary.

A request for comment was sent to the provincial health department spokesperson, Ntokozo Maphisa, who told the Daily News to speak to Mdu Ncalane.

The newspaper sent a media query to Ncalane on Thursday morning and a follow-up reminder in the afternoon. He had not responded by the time of going to print.

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Daily News