MUTARE – The remains of a Nyanga man who was recently exhumed from Granville Cemetery, popularly known as Kumbudzi, in Harare after Doves Funeral Services buried him in the same coffin with a pauper are yet to be reburied almost a year after his death as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) tests are being carried out on the two bodies, The Manica Post has learned.
As the saga drags on, Mr Maxwell Chimwamurombe’s family has opened to The Manica Post in its quest for justice.
They did not conduct body viewing before burying a coffin they believed contained his remains in Chief Katerere’s area last year.
Last Friday, the coffin was exhumed in Nyanga and it was discovered that the funeral service provider had allegedly stuffed blankets, cloths and plastic bags in a coffin that was supposed to be carrying Mr Chimwamurombe’s remains.
Mr Chimwamurombe drowned in a flooded Nyamombe River in Nyanga last year in March and his body could not be found for weeks.
When it was discovered, it was at an advanced state of decomposition and some of his body parts were scattered on the riverbank.
The remains were collected and sent to Harare for forensic tests and preparation for burial.
However, in a major boob whose circumstances remain unclear, Doves Funeral Services delivered an empty coffin to Nyanga, while Mr Chimwamurombe’s remains were instead buried at Granville Cemetery in Harare, inside a coffin that had the body of a pauper whose funeral was paid for by Harare City Council.
Police have since moved in to probe the case and exhumed the empty coffin in Nyanga as well as Mr Chimwamurombe’s body.
Law enforcement agents have indicated that the company will likely be charged with two counts of fraud.
Police said Doves Funeral Services was likely to be charged with defrauding the policyholder who was paying her premiums, Ms Memory Chimwamurombe, but failed to offer her the expected services.
Harare City Council was also defrauded as two corpses were buried in one grave that had been paid for.
In an interview with The Manica Post on Wednesday night, a sister to the deceased said events surrounding her brother’s burial were now having a toll on her health.
The bitter Ms Chimwamurombe did not mince her words, saying Doves should compensate her in her individual capacity as the policyholder before appeasing her brother’s spirit.
“I am the last born in our family of five and was the one who was taking care of my late brother who was also a mental health patient. My brother never married and the desire to see him being accorded a decent burial upon his death prompted me to enlist him among the beneficiaries of my policy with Doves.
“I am a vendor, a mother of six and a widow following the death of my husband in 2006. To raise the money to pay for the funeral policy, I walk a long distance to Mutoko to sell my wares. I am paying US$11 every month to service my policy. When my brother died, I bought a blanket for US$45 for it to be used to cover his remains as I loved him so much.
“Despite my toil, little did I know that my brother’s death would bring more agony to me. I am having sleepless nights thinking of what really happened to my brother’s remains. Doves has to come out clean on what happened because we are not getting convincing answers on what caused this boob.
“We slaughtered a bull and goats during my late brother’s funeral and memorial service; only to learn that we didn’t even bury him. Who will compensate us for this loss and the pain? When this issue is finally resolved, who will meet the reburial costs?” complained an emotional Ms Chimwamurombe.
She claimed that in hindsight she has now realised that Doves employees acted suspiciously from the collection of the remains in Harare to the burial of the empty coffin in Katerere.
“After our brother’s remains were released from Parirenyatwa mortuary into the custody of Doves, they did not take time to inform us that they were ready to travel to Nyanga.
“They did not ask any family member to witness whether we were taking the correct body for burial or not. Everything was hurriedly done. Along the way, my sister who was sitting in the Doves hearse even questioned the driver who was only identified as Chitsike why no foul smell was coming from the coffin considering that my brother’s remains were in an advance state of decomposition. She was told that they had embalmed the body and decided to let it go.
“My brother was heavily built and pall-bearers questioned the weight of the coffin when we arrived in Katerere, but this was again brushed aside by the driver. The driver also insisted that no body viewing should be done,” she said.
Ms Chimwamurombe said Doves representatives only consulted her in November.
“Doves representatives drove here to look for me in November. When I had a meeting with them, they said they had discovered Maxwell’s remains on Shelf Number 3, three days after the perceived burial.
“How did the remains find their way onto the shelf when they were not supposed to spend time in their parlour? When I asked them the exact body parts that were on that shelf, they could not answer me.
“To add insult to injury, they continued deducting Maxwell’s premium from my policy for three months after his death. They should not act clever. Yes, they are a big corporate with muscle, but I know my brother’s spirit will not rest until justice prevails,” fumed Ms Chimwamurombe.
“Since the exhumation I haven’t slept and I can drop anytime due to hypertension,” she said.
In a separate interview from Harare, the Chimwamurombe family spokesperson, Mr Proud Chimwamurombe said the family wants to give its late patriarch a befitting send-off so that his soul can rest in peace.
“This issue has been dragging for almost a year now. My uncle died in March last year and it pains us that up to now his remains are yet to be buried. The police are doing their job, but we hope this will not further delay his burial.
“We are waiting for the DNA tests being done on his remains since they were two bodies in the coffin that was exhumed in Harare. Our legal team is also providing us with the necessary guidance so that there is closure on this whole case. We are also waiting for Doves to engage us on the best way forward,” said Mr Chimwamurombe.
When asked on what had caused the boob and how the family failed to dictate that they were burying an empty coffin, Mr Chimwamurombe said emotions could have gotten the better of them during the funeral.
“When my uncle drowned, his body could not be located for some time. When it was finally located, it was in an advanced state of decomposition.
“The remains were taken to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals’ mortuary. We managed to positively identify them before they were taken to Doves Funeral Service parlour.
“When we went to collect the remains in Harare, body viewing was not done as we were in the midst of a Covid-19 wave. During that time last year, the disease was wreaking havoc and we thought the service provider had done a proper job.
“We also did not conduct any body viewing in Nyanga. Admittedly, the coffin was lighter than expected but the pall-bearers thought that since the remains were in an advanced state of decomposition, this could have affected the weight,” he explained.
Asked on how they eventually discovered that they had buried an empty coffin, Mr Chimwamurombe said Doves dropped the bombshell on them.
“We were only informed by people from Doves that a mix-up on our father’s body had occurred. How they discovered that, we are not privy to that. What disturbed us the most is the time it took them to discover the error.
“Maybe the police will furnish us with more details on what really transpired when they finalise their investigations. Our doors are always open for formal engagement with the company,” he said.
Doves Funeral Services spokesperson, Mr Innocent Tshuma, could not be drawn to reveal more details on the issue as he said police investigations are still underway.
However, The Manica Post understands that meetings have since been held between Doves Funeral Services and the Chimwamurombes in Nyanga and Harare.
A statement prepared and signed by the Chimwamurombes’ attorney, Mr Tafara Chiturumani of Chiturumani Zvavanoda Law Chambers on November 6, 2021 which this publication has in possession reads: “Both parties have realised that there is need to scientifically establish the truth regarding the burial of the deceased, and correct any findings of impropriety arising out of the burial process.
“The agreed process will entail: (a) exhumation of the graves concerned, in compliance with the requirements of the law; (b) identification of any remains recovered, either through DNA tests or other means; and (c) reburial of the deceased, if necessary….”
However, traditional leaders have come out guns blazing as they say their land was defiled by the boob.
A bitter Chief Katerere, whose land was reportedly defiled by Doves Funeral Services, witnessed the exhumation of the empty coffin last week on Friday.
The traditional leader had no kind words for the company.
“It is unheard of to bury an empty coffin. Why did they fail to dictate this anomaly on time? How could they travel all the way from Harare to Katerere without doing due diligence?
“I was present when the coffin was exhumed and inside were white cloths, blankets, plastics and some bloodstains,” said Chief Katerere in an interview with The Manica Post early this week.
He said while the police are continuing with their investigations, he will summon the company to appear before his court for defiling his land.
“In cases of this nature, offenders are usually fined five cattle. We will ensure that justice prevails. The Chimwamurombes should also be compensated,” he said.
Zimbabwe Council of Chiefs’ Manicaland provincial chairman, Chief Makumbe chipped in saying the Doves Funeral Services have got a case to answer.
“They violated Hwesa traditions. Tampering with dead bodies is a criminal offence and as the custodians of our culture, we will not fold our arms and watch from a distance as this has a large bearing in the discharge of our duties. The Katereres now have an open grave in their community, what will happen to it? This is a mockery of our norms and values.
“When they transported the empty coffin from Harare, the weight of the coffin should have raised eyebrows. Where did the bloodstains that were found in the coffin that was exhumed in Nyanga came from? If it belonged to someone else, it means that the Chimwamurombes dedicated the spirit of a stranger to their ancestors,” said Chief Makumbe.
He added: “Doves is a reputable company with many years of experience in handling dead bodies and should have properly handled this whole issue. The company should engage the Chimwamurombes and Chief Katerere to settle this issue once and for all.
“As traditional leaders in Manicaland, we also want to summon them to appear before our council to address all the grey areas regarding this issue. We want proper closure on the issue,” he said. – Manica Post