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Cape Town family given wrong body to bury

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A family has detailed their trauma of almost burying the wrong body and then having to travel more than 1 000km to exhume their father’s remains in KwaZulu-Natal after another family was given his body.

Wele Sigamlele from Site C in Khayelitsha died in Tygerberg Hospital. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – A family has detailed their trauma of almost burying the wrong body and then having to travel more than 1 000km to exhume their father’s remains in KwaZulu-Natal after another family was given his body.

When Wele Sigamlele from Site C in Khayelitsha fell sick and his health deteriorated, his family said they sent him to the Khayelitsha District Hospital to be admitted as he was diabetic.

Sigamlele was then transferred to Tygerberg Hospital, where he died a few days later, they said.

According to his son Unathi, if they had not begged the funeral parlour to open the casket as per their Xhosa culture, they would have buried the wrong body. 

“My father was transferred to Tygerberg Hospital on May 12 and on May 19 a doctor called the family, informing us that he passed away. The next day we made arrangements with our funeral parlour and went to Tygerberg Hospital to remove him.

“We were informed that a private contractor had already moved the body as they do not keep the bodies.

“We went to the private contractor who told us the funeral parlour couldn’t take the body as it was infected and they needed adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). This came as a shock to us,” he said.

The family said they were still baffled because no health official or Tygerberg Hospital official had told them their father had contracted Covid-19.

“Our parlour went to buy the PPE the same day and was able to take the body to their facility. On May 26 we travelled to Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape where we would bury him. 

“We arrived on May 27. We held a brief service and when the funeral parlour was getting ready to take the casket to the graveyard, we pleaded with them to allow us to practise our belief and see him.

“We had bought PPEs and they agreed. To our shock we saw a man we have never seen in our lives. The parlour blamed their workers, saying they must have accidentally switched bodies,” said Unathi.

He said the family did their own investigation and found a family from Mtwalume in KZN was given the body.

“Unfortunately, when we got there on May 30, they had already buried my father. We followed all procedures and the body was exhumed on Monday, it was really my father. 

“We came back with the body and a family meeting will be held to decide when we will bury him again.

“We are still confused about whether he was infected or not, but we will treat the body as a Covid-19 body for health and safety reasons.”

When the Cape Times called the funeral parlour, it asked not to be named , and alleged the hospital had informed it the body was infected. 

They also admitted they “accidentally” switched the bodies. Hospital spokesperson Laticia Pienaar said they would probe the incident.

Cape Times