The COVID-19 regulations that forbid the viewing of a deceased’s body by bereaved families has had a negative impact for the Sigamlele family in Cofimvaba, in the Eastern Cape, and the Madlala family in Mthwalume – in KwaZulu-Natal.

The bodies of their loved ones were mistakenly swapped by the mortuary. The bodies were transported from the Western Cape to the respective families.

Losing a loved one is painful, but the agony became worse once the families realised that a mistake was made and they took possession of the wrong body. Speaking on behalf of the Sigamlele family Unathi Sigamlele says they nearly buried the wrong body.

“When the body was about to be laid to rest, we as the family asked to see the body, that’s only when we realised that it was not my fathers’ body. Our investigation showed us that this body belongs to some family in KZN.”

Family buries the wrong person 

The Madlala family in Mthwalume in KwaZulu-Natal was not that lucky and conducted a funeral. The body has now been exhumed and the families will now receive the remains of their loved ones. Bhekukwenza Madlala from Mthwalume says going through this is traumatic.

“We are very saddened about this, it is indeed painful to bury a body that does not belong to you. But they have just exhumed the body, they will bring ours tomorrow. The COVID-19 regulation that says we must not view the body is a big problem. I think they must revisit the regulations to allow people to view the body, just to confirm if they are burying the right body. Otherwise, people will continue to bury bodies that do not belong to them.”

Concern over COVID-19 regulations

Cofimvaba local chief Langalibalele Matanzima says this shows how the COVID-19 regulations did not work for these two families.

“Due to the COVID-19 regulations that stipulate that the body must go straight to the graveyard to be intact and not to pass by the house according to tradition, the family requested to have a look at the body which was covered in plastic. When they opened it, it was discovered that it was not the body of the person they were going to bury. They investigated, called the mortuary and the mortuary confirmed that there was confusion. The wrong body was sent to them and theirs may be in KZN.”

The Director of the Icamagu Heritage Institute, Dr Nokuzola Mndende, says the issue of not viewing the body was specifically raised as they feared this exact scenario. She believes that bodies must be covered in transparent plastics for viewing.

“We were told that there are three plastics and this is infectious. We are not denying that but at least we wanted that there must be some means just to show the face,  that it is is the right person. We had fears that a time will come when a wrong body is brought to the family, it now has happened.  A wrong body was brought to the family.”

The infographic below elaborates further on the handling of bodies: