An unholy alliance between a private funeral parlour and hospital staff members has seen some staffers at Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital touting the services of Sojourner Funeral Parlour to bereaved families, The Manica Post can reveal.
It has also been established that the compromised staff members were being paid handsomely — an average of US$50 — whenever they handed over corpses of those who would have died while admitted at the provincial referral institution to the private funeral parlour.
To bend the rules and force bereaved families to engage the funeral service provider, those without funeral policies were reportedly made to believe that the hospital’s mortuary was malfunctioning and referred to Sojourner.
Investigations established that Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital’s morgue is in good working order.
Sojourner Funeral Parlour’s truck is usually conveniently parked at the hospital gate.
At times, when one dies while in admission, the body is handed over to the funeral parlour without the consent of the deceased person’s relatives, with family members only coming in later to negotiate the price for burial services.
Investigations conducted by The Manica Post, spanning over three weeks, revealed that Mr Tongai Nongerai, an employee of the Ministry of Health and Child Care at the mortuary wing, is also attached to Sojourner Funeral Parlour.
When this reporter called Mr Nongerai on March 17 and feigned family bereavement, he said he worked for Sojourner.
In that telephone conversation, Mr Nongerai said taking the body to their rented Doves mortuary would cost US$50.
He also said the cheapest charge for all the funeral services was US$300.
However, Doves Funeral Services spokesperson, Mr Innocent Tshuma, distanced his company from Sojourner Funeral Parlour.
He said Sojourner could be taking corpses to Doves mortuaries just like any other client without any binding contract with the company.
“We do not rent out our mortuaries to anyone. We are also aware of those funeral parlours that have their vehicles parked just outside hospitals as they wait for bodies,” he said.
But Sojourner Funeral Parlour owner, Mr Tafadzwa Mukwati, defended Mr Nongerai and his company.
“While Mr Nongerai is employed by Government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, he also serves us on a part time basis and there is nothing wrong with that,” he said.
On February 19, there was drama at Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital when a bereaved family from Gwese Village, Mutare, arrived to collect the body of their deceased relative.
The family got the shock of their lives when they discovered that the body had already been taken by Sojourner Funeral Parlour’s truck.
A heated dispute ensued and efforts to get the body back into the hospital mortuary were fruitless as the mortuary attendant on duty argued that the body could have been tampered with during the one-hour long period it was under the custody of the private funeral parlour.
“We left the hospital to get some medication that was prescribed for our niece who was admitted at the hospital. Upon our return, we were informed that she had passed on. What disturbed us the most is that the body of the deceased was not in the hospital ward or the mortuary.
“Instead, it had already been placed in the Sojourner Funeral Parlour vehicle. We were not happy about it and we had a heated argument with the authorities over the issue,” said a relative who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But Mr Mukwati said the incident was a minor misunderstanding as they were later contracted to provide funeral services for the client in question.
He said his company’s operations are above board.
“We are an ethical entity and we have been operating within the standard procedures of the industry. I think this is all coming from our rivals in business. That is the nature of business competition. At times competitors use such tactics to tarnish a rivals’ image when they feel the heat.
When contacted for comment, Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital Medical Superintendent, Dr Dorcas Masanga-Mutede did not respond to questions sent to her.
After several attempts to get in touch with her, she was no longer reachable.
However, The Manica Post has established that a committee has since been set up at Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital to look into the issue after Manicaland Provincial Medical Director, Dr Simon Nyadundu intervened.
President of the Funeral Services Association of Zimbabwe, Dr Chomi Makina said funeral parlours need to operate within the confines of the law.
“There is a Cemeteries Act as well as a Cremation Act which has to be adhered to when conducting funeral business.
“The Ministry of Health and Child Care and City Health departments are regulators in terms of how human remains are disposed of. Associations such as the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers (ZAFA) and Funeral Directors Association of Zimbabwe (FUDAZ) have been created for funeral assurers and funeral service providers so that self-regulation takes place in the industry.
“The International School of Funeral Business Management (ISFBM) have also been established to educate and empower morticians, undertakers and all funeral parlour personnel to understand the field and sciences underpinning this noble profession,” said Dr Makina.
Bogus funeral assurers operating without the required licensces are on the prowl across the province and the country at large.
To register a funeral parlour in Zimbabwe requires several steps.
These include incorporating the company in Zimbabwe, registering with Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), National Employment Council (NEC), National Social Security Authority (NSSA), Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers (ZAFA) and Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC), depending on whether you are a funeral service provider or a funeral assurer.