Funeral drama at cemetery

Burial of Tapson William Gumbo at Umvutsha Cemetery yesterday. (Picture by Dennis Mudzamiri)
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THERE was chaos at a Bulawayo cemetery yesterday when the family of a deceased injiva blocked undertakers from removing a coffin from a hearse in protest over the funeral parlour’s refusal to allow them to conduct body viewing.

The incident at Umvutsha Park Cemetery is an example of how some people misunderstand some crucial Covid-19 protocols that have been set up for their own safety.

Umvutsha Park Cemetery

A handful of mourners witnessed the altercation shortly before 10AM.

The deadlock lasted for about an hour as Kings and Queens Real Funeral Service stood their ground, arguing that they were following health protocols.

The remains of Tapson Wilson Gumbo were repatriated from Pretoria in South Africa.

Sources said the dispute emanated from Kings and Queens Real Funeral Service’s refusal to open the coffin so that relatives could conduct body viewing.

The body, which was brought into the country by Kings and Queens Real Funeral Service, was hermetically sealed in a container and placed in a sturdy non-transparent coffin in line with health regulations.

“The deceased’s family argued that the decision by Kings and Queens Real Funeral Service to deny them body viewing was illegal. They based their argument on the Covid-19 free certificate issued in South Africa,” said the source.

“The family in Bulawayo insisted that they wanted to view the body just like what happened in South Africa, but it appears Kings and Queens Real Funeral Service didn’t want, citing Covid-19 health regulations.”

According to documents seen by Chronicle, Tapson died on January 28 due to natural causes. The tests, which were conducted in South Africa revealed that the cause of death was not Covid-19-related.

A Chronicle news crew arrived at the cemetery shortly after the coffin had been lowered into the grave. This was after the two parties had reached a compromise by agreeing to remove part of the seal to enable relatives to compare the features and colours of the blanket used to wrap the coffin with what they were told by their counterparts in South Africa.

The deceased’s brother, Mr Themba Gumbo said their demands were reasonable and justified as they wanted to avoid burying a wrong body.

“The person that we are burying here is my brother and he was declared Covid-19 negative in South Africa, but surprisingly upon arrival at the funeral parlour we were given an envelope coming from Harare written ‘Covid-19.’

That’s why we asked the funeral parlour to unseal the coffin so that we are 100 percent satisfied that we are burying our brother,” he said.

“It is not like we wanted to violate the health regulations. We simply wanted undertakers to show us the blanket, which was used to wrap the coffin, including another distinguishable item inside so that we could then compare the features and match them with what our relatives in South Africa gave us.”

Mr Gumbo said they resolved the impasse following the intervention of their relatives in South Africa.

“We had to engage our relatives who handled the body in South Africa and that’s how the funeral parlour ended up agreeing to remove part of the seal to enable us to identify the blanket and the other distinguishable item inside,” he said.

One Ms Ndlovu, who is in charge of Kings and Queens Real Funeral Service operations in Bulawayo refused to comment.

Acting provincial medical director for Bulawayo Dr Welcome Mlilo said in terms of the health regulations, the ban on body viewing only applies to Covid-19 cases.

“If bodies are repatriated from South Africa or any other country with Covid-19 free certificates, mourners are allowed to follow the traditional ways such as body viewing. However, in circumstances where the cause of death is not known, we automatically treat that as Covid-19 death,” he said.

“That body is supposed to arrive in Zimbabwe hermetically sealed and the coffin should not be opened for body viewing.”

Besides passing through the embassies, the processing of repatriation documents is subject to approval by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

Those who seek to transport the bodies for burial elsewhere are supposed to undergo a tight screening process from authorities.

Zimbabwean and South African health authorities came up with joint stringent measures recently after consultations between South Africa-based funeral parlours and authorities from the two countries.

The Ministry of Health’s director of environmental health, Mr Victor Nyamandi recently said Zimbabweans who die outside the country can be repatriated, but subjected to a rigorous process.

He said it is important for parties processing documentation, including funeral parlours, to co-operate with authorities so that Zimbabweans are afforded the decent burials they deserve. — Chronicle