Shorné Bennie
4 minute read
30 Jan 2020
9:11 am

Grieving families in Pietermaritzburg forced to commute to cremate loved ones 

Shorné Bennie

Mountain Rise crematorium in Pietermaritzburg has had so many issues with gas supply and broken equipment that families now commute to Cato Ridge to have their loved ones cremated.

The Mountain Rise Crematorium. Image: Public Eye Pietermaritzburg

More grieving families are opting to have their loved ones cremated in Cato Ridge rather than at Pietermaritzburg’s infamous crematorium facility, almost 30km away, but mayor Mzi Thebolla says the city has already implemented a plan to tackle the challenges.

This includes addressing the current, dire state of Mountain Rise Crematorium, as well as problems with the furnace and gas supply, reports Maritzburg Sun.

The mayor said that grass cutting had commenced, and that 50 new brush cutters were being bought that would be deployed to cemeteries.

“The problem relating to the gas supply to the crematorium has been addressed. Both cremator one and two have a healthy balance of gas in stock and steps have been taken to prevent future interruptions to the gas supply,” said the mayor in a statement announcing as well that equipment would also be upgraded in the 2020/2021 financial year.

“While the repairs and maintenance is being undertaken, one of the cremators will be decommissioned while the other will remain in operation. Various stakeholders including civil society will be consulted,” said Thebolla.

In January, the mayor led a delegation along with district champion MEC Ravi Pillay and speaker Eunice Majola, Midlands Hindu Society President Ranjiv Nirghin, for a site inspection following a huge public outcry when the incinerators stopped working midway through two cremations last year.

Inside the infamous Pietermaritzburg crematorium, Mountain Rise. Image: Maritzburg Sun

“The visit gave us invaluable insight on the amount of work that has to be done as we strive to ensure that the cemetery functions optimally. As the political leadership of the municipality, we then tasked our officials with devising a turnaround plan. We are happy to report that the plan is already being implemented and has started bearing fruit,” said Thebolla.

Advocate Ranjiv Nirghin, who is also the Chairperson of Msunduzi Crematorium and Cemeteries Concerned Citizens Committee, said it was of paramount importance to the community that the crematoria facility is properly managed.

“I was present at the inspection in loco and can confirm that we had a fruitful engagement with the leadership and expressed our dissatisfaction with the deterioration of the crematoria in the city which causes further distress to families during the death of a loved one.

“Our concerns were taken seriously after the leadership saw the true state of the crematoria and we were given a commitment that the facilities and services will be improved. We look forward to working with the leadership to ensure that this essential service is delivered in an uninterrupted and dignified manner,” said Nirghin.

Residents reveal horror stories of botched cremation processes

In March last year, resident Reaan Brijlal, whose mother Anitha Devi Brijlal’s cremation was halted midway due to a number of reasons, told Public Eye how his family was disturbed by their experience at Mountain Rise.

“We were told to return by 4pm to fetch my mother’s ashes. To our horror, when we got there, they told us due to load shedding, the process was delayed. Her corpse was placed in at 1pm and when the load shedding started, her coffin and corpse had already started burning. I was told that once the incinerator turns off due to the heat, it continues to burn. So we went home and we told workers at the crematorium to call us when the electricity was restored,” said Brijlal.

The electricity was eventually restored to the area after load shedding but not to the crematorium. Brijlal said they were given irrational reasons for the delay.

Another resident, Krishenthren Kistasamy, who was en route to complete the remainder of his father’s rituals in Durban last year, said that his father Koobenthren Kistasamy’s cremation had only started at 10pm.

“My father’s cremation was meant to begin at 3pm on Sunday but there was a delay. After the load shedding, we were told that there was a fault with an electricity cable. We could not send the body back to the mortuary as my fathers’ final rites had already been completed. We thought the delay would only be till 5pm or 6pm. We were concerned as a post mortem had been conducted on my father and it was hot. This has been a terrible experience for my family. We are thankful for the support we received from the undertakers and councillor Rooksana,” said Kistasamy.

The Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson at the time, Thobeka Mafumbatha, dismissed that the incinerators were not functioning due to non-maintenance, saying that they were in “perfect working order and are serviced regularly”.

“All bills pertaining to the crematoriums are paid,” Mafumbatha said.

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