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Public warned over handling dead bodies

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This follows the Old Mutual incident.

Ntombenhle Mhlongo,36, and Thandaza Mtshali,30, were seen on social media dumping the body of their uncle at the Old Mutual offices in Stanger Picture Zanele Zulu/ African News Agency (ANA)

Durban – DESPITE the possible health hazards of handling a corpse in an unprofessional manner, a KwaDukuza family say they were driven by desperation to make Old Mutual pay out on a funeral policy to bury a relative when they delivered the body to the financial institution.

A video showing Ntombenhle Mhlongo and Thandaza Mtshali went viral on social media this week, showing the two carrying the body of 46-year-old Sifiso Mhlongo in a body bag into an Old Mutual office in KwaDukuza (Stanger). Old Mutual then rapidly paid out the R30 000 due and Mhlongo was buried on Sunday.

Rajesh Maharaj, director of Thekwini Funeral Centre, said there were serious health repercussions in handling a corpse without necessary precautionary measures.

“Depending on the nature of death, there are various health risks associated with removing a body from the mortuary in a body bag and exposing it in a public space. Protective gear is a must because different gases escape the body, especially if it has been days since the person has died,” he said.

Ntombenhle Mhlongo said they became desperate when Old Mutual did not deposit the payout, after lodging a claim on Monday.

“We were told that it would take 48 hours for the money to be paid into the bank account, but this never happened until Friday – when we reached a point of desperation. We got to the office and an area manager told us that they were still doing an assessment and pleaded with us to give the process two hours.

“We waited and when we went back inside the manager asked for three more hours for further assessment,” Mhlongo said.

FRAME GRABS of cellphone video footage show Ntombenhle Mhlongo, 36, and Thandaza Mtshali, 30, dump the body of their uncle at Old Mutual’s offices in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, apparently in protest against the insurer’s decision not to pay out a claim. On the right, they stand next to their uncle’s grave.

She said they were left with no option but to call the funeral parlour, informing it that they were on the way to fetch the body.

“We hired a vehicle to fetch the body and we brought it to the offices. We said while they were doing further assessment, they could also assess the body to satisfy themselves that he was indeed dead. Within 30 minutes of bringing the body inside, the manager came to us with a printout saying the claim has been approved and that it has been paid into the bank account. We said only an SMS will make us believe that payment was made, and a few minutes later we received the message.”

Now completely distrustful of Old Mutual, the family left the body at the offices and went to the bank to confirm the deposit.

“It was only then that we took uSbari (brother-in-law) home. This has been a bad experience for us because we are unemployed. We relied on this policy which was paid for with Sassa grant money. On our arrival at home, we had to perform a ritual apologising and explaining to him why we had to take such extreme measures. This company has traumatised my family and that’s why we are cutting ties with it,” Mhlongo said.

The funeral parlour said it had followed the family’s request and released the body. “Corpses do leave mortuaries in body bags so there’s no transgression in what happened on the day. It is the family that pays for storage so their word goes,” said a representative.

Old Mutual official Thembisa Mapukata said they had informed the family when they realised that further assessment would be conducted. She said their standard procedure was to notify claimants, via SMS, of the time and date of payment. “We acknowledge the bereavement of our client, but maybe when they heard that there will be further assessment they thought the claim will be rejected.

“Further assessments are done from time to time, but that’s not a signal for rejection. We pay 99.6% of our claims within eight hours so we’re relooking at the process of payment, especially where further assessment is concerned, to avoid this kind of situation in the future,” she said.

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