Funeral services were disrupted countrywide from the 14th to the 16th of September. This followed a call for a total shutdown of services by a number of funeral associations until the government listened to their concerns about the industry. During the national shutdown, human remains would not be fetched from state mortuaries, public and private hospitals, or homes, by undertakers. The undertakers also vowed not to conduct any funerals until the government listened to their demands industry.
Among their grievances, undertakers wanted recognition and legalisation of the outsourcing of mortuary facilities. The undertakers also wanted the amendment of by-laws to accommodate the building of bulk, cluster or complex storage. Another demand is the allocation of a Covid-19 Relief Funds for the funeral industry. Part of their grievances was that hospitals insisted that undertakers present a Certificate of Competency (COC) which small business owners and funeral homes were not able to do.
The National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa (NFPASA), a funeral association representing the majority of the black and previously disadvantaged funeral businesses, confirmed that most of their demands were met. Muzi Hlengwa, the president of NFPASA, said that the industry never intended to embark on a three-day strike, they did so because all along their demands were previously ignored. However, the strike even though the lost money because if it was a worthwhile sacrifice, as some of the demands were met.
Both the department of health and the undertakers reached the following agreement:
– Hospitals, mortuaries, police and everybody should not request a COC from the funeral undertaker, before & after making a removal. Only the Environmental Health Practitioners are allowed to request a COC, and only on the premises where a mortuary is built. The COC speaks to the storage of human remains, and nothing else.
– The building of cluster, bulk, and complex storages by a group of funeral undertakers is allowed, only if it’s in line with the COC regulations.
– Small & emerging funeral undertakers are also allowed to outsource storage facilities, however only a storage facility with a valid COC can store human remains.”
Hlengwa said that if their demands were not met at 300 000 people would have lost their jobs. He added that stokvels were minimally affected during the shutdown, as most stokvels now deposit their monthly premiums to the undertakers at a bank rather than at the offices. He, however, said the most affected community was the Muslim Society because according to their rituals they have to bury the deceased on the same day of death.