East London family left gutted after burying the wrong corpse
Afika Peters

A family in East London, Eastern Cape, has had to deal with the grave trauma of exhuming a body they thought was of their deceased relative.

Shockingly, this is not the first incident of this nature in the region. In fact, according to Times Live, at least six families have had to deal with the unimaginable trauma of being told they buried a stranger, thinking it was a relative, in the past three weeks.

East London families in shambles over missing corpses

Renowned funeral parlours in East London, including Nomatshongwana Funeral Undertakers, have been accused of the gross mix up. In their alleged mishandling of corpses, two bodies — that of Nomawethu Mbishi-Mnyobe and Lindiwe Landu — were misplaced in two cities.

Landu’s body, it turns out, was handed over to the wrong family, eight kilometres away from Mdantsane, in Dimbaza. Nomatshongwana has vehemently refused to accept accountability for this gross mishap and the matter has since been moved to the courts.

In the case of the Mnyobe family, they had buried Nomawethu last week Monday.

However, they were left in utter disbelief when Frere Provincial Hospital called to make arrangements for the release of the deceased’s body from their care.

It is clear, the person they had held an intimate send-off for was not the beloved aunt Nomawethu. Fortunately, in this case, the deceased has been reconnected with her family and she will be buried, once more, on Wednesday.

Whose fault is it anyway?

Part of the problem with these uncommon cases has a lot to do with the unprecedented times we live in. With regards to funerals, patients who die of the coronavirus (Covid-19) are not allowed the dignity of open-casket burials, for obvious reasons.

However, as we have seen with the blunders reported in East London, this can present a major administrative headache if, as in the case of the two abovementioned families, the corpses are lost or misplaced.

In this instance, it is the responsibility of the funeral parlour and the mortuary to ensure that corpses are properly tagged and reunited with their respective grieving families.

In cases where families bury the wrong bodies, there is no possible way to claim refunds from the life insurance company since, in their view, the agreement was honoured.

Johan Rosseau from the Funeral Industry Regulatory Authority told the cited publication that unfortunately, there is “no recourse because there is no ombudsman.”

“It boils down to inefficient regulations, lack of training and controls, and incorrect PPE being used by the hospitals because they use incorrect procedures and products, making it virtually impossible for a parlour to identify a deceased,” he said.