Wary undertakers pinning hopes on SA getting a vaccine

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Funeral undertakers have pinned their hopes on South Africa getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa says their affiliates are losing staff to the virus.

In addition to this, the industry faces other challenges including the high demand for coffins and policy cancellations.

Funeral parlours battling to cope with the high number of burials:

Tshipi-Noto funeral home was established 19 years ago in Delmas, Mpumalanga. A decade later, the business has over 30 branches and recently began offering financial services and funeral cover to its clients.

Yet years of experience could not have prepared the business for the COVID-19 pandemic. Months ahead of the country’s first case and into the second wave, the business’s General Manager Thabiso Maumakoe says they are scared.

“We are aware that this is a different variant and just like everyone else, we are scared as a business and human beings. We have parents and the elderly, so there is definitely fear within the team.”

The start of the New Year is usually the least busy time of the year, but considering the country’s current state, employees say they are bracing themselves for more burials.

In addition to this, Moumakoe also speaks about the shortage of coffins. “Coffin manufacturers are overwhelmed and they are battling with the demand. On top of this, there is no variety and indeed we are dealing with the effect of not getting supplies on time.”

He says all of these factors contribute to fatigue and anxiety, especially after already losing one colleague.

“Last week, our numbers shot up by 120% and this week our numbers are climbing up again. This is more than normal, these are not our normal numbers.”

Funeral undertakers under strain:

‘Business not booming’ 

Contrary to what many believe, business is in fact not booming for funeral parlours and burial services. The increasing number of cases and subsequent deaths put the business in jeopardy.

“This is definitely not a business boom for us. We are not making money from this because operational costs have gone up. The lockdown has also led to cancellation of policies. Some don’t have money to bury and we have to find a way to help them,” says Moumakoe.

Sisonke funerals, which has a branch in South Africa and Zimbabwe, offers services to those hailing from SADC countries. The director of the business, David Mlilo, anticipates he will be frequenting these countries.

“I spent my new year’s eve on the way to Zimbabwe. I will be going out again tomorrow or Tuesday… When you get to the place you to bury someone, there are different scenarios. There was one where they told me I had to get the body out of the house. We had to carry the body ourselves to the grave. If we get those vaccines, it will be easier for us. It will make our lives easier.”

As of 4 January, the country breached the 30 000 mark for the cumulative of COVID related deaths.