Funerals homes in the Eastern Cape are struggling to keep up with the demand and are experiencing a shortage of coffins, and space in their mortuaries, due to the rise in COVID-19 deaths.
Funerals are now a daily occurrence in the Eastern Cape, instead of taking place once a week, says Malibongwe Dayimani of News24.
He spoke to the owner of Nomtshongwana Funeral Undertakers, Vusi Nomtshongwana, who said that the need for larger coffins has soared because a number of overweight and obese people – individuals who are more susceptible to the virus because of their comorbidities – have died of the COVID-19 recently.
“Since last month, I order two oversized coffins per week, whereas normally I would order one oversized coffin once every six months,” said Nomtshongwana.
The funeral home has been serving the Buffalo City Metro for more than 40 years, and said the workload has doubled or even tripled. In the past, before the pandemic, they would conduct funerals over the weekend.
“I am finding that I am needing more coffins, an overall of 20 coffins per week, whereas, before COVID-19, I only needed 10 coffins per week.”
The Funeral Industry Reformed Association (FIRA) will look into helping the parlours in dire need of coffins given the shortage in the province, said its chairperson, Johan Rossouw.
FIRA represents 30 000 small funeral homes and 80 000 employees.
Dayimani also spoke to Adriaan Bester, the general manager of corporate affairs for Avbob Funeral Services, who said they have used 140% more coffins compared to last December.
Avbob manufactures its own coffins in a factory based in Bloemfontein and distributes coffins to hundreds of funeral homes in South Africa, including 23 of its own branches in the Eastern Cape.
Avbob is capable of meeting the increased demand for coffins, according to Bester. “We carry good qualities of stock at our branches nationwide, but can replenish that stock from our factory at short notice,” he said. “We also provide stock to other caretakers.”
To meet the demand for increased mortuary space, however, the funeral service has converted shipping containers into cold storage units and placed them at 19 sites across the country.
“In some areas, our case load has grown by more than 100%. We have placed mobile container mortuaries at 19 sites around the country and have more units available should the need arise,” said Bester.
As of December 29, South Africa has recorded 1 021 451 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 9580 cases being identified since the last report.
Regrettably, a further 497 South Africans died from COVID-19-related illnesses and the death toll is fast approaching 30 000.
In the Eastern Cape 137 people died, 158 in the Western Cape, 114 in KwaZulu-Natal, 68 in Gauteng, 13 in Limpopo and 2 people died in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape, respectively.
South Africa’s recovery rate currently stands at 84% and 858 456 people have recovered from COVID-19.