Umm Muhammed Umar
The Office of the Public Protector has launched an investigation into the Phoenix mortuary. At least 20 bodies were allegedly placed on the mortuary floor because the facility was filled beyond capacity. Radio Islam spoke to Public Protector spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe.
The new Own Initiative Systemic Investigation was launched as a result of information that was available in the public domain. Segalwe said, “We noticed a number of news reports last week indicating that there was a problem at the mortuary.” The Office of the Public Protector doesn’t need to wait for a complaint to be logged, before intervening. He said, “We then decided to look into that……. we have previously investigated mortuaries in KZN, about six of them, including the Phoenix mortuary and that report which was issued in 2019 was welcomed by the then MEC. He added, “those issues were addressed and a lot of those issues are found in the latest complaint. So it was a cause for concern on our part to say that if that remedial action was implemented, we would not have seen these complaints that have just surfaced.” Segalwe said that the Office of the Public Protector was collaborating with the KZN government to see if there was any outstanding piece of remedial action and to ensure that it was implemented. Further, Segalwe said that the new investigation would focus on the new issues to be resolved.
The new allegations include that the working conditions were hazardous to the health of the staff at the mortuary, due to a lack of protective equipment. Staff had also complained about lack of supplies, such as chemicals used to clean up workspace. Equipment or infrastructure is alleged to no longer be in good working condition, to avoid scenarios such as having corpses lying around outside of the fridges. Segalwe said that those were some of the issues that may have not been part of the initial investigation. In the initial investigation a number of facilities had been investigated, “with this one, we’re going to drill into the issues that have been brought to the surface, to see to it that they are addressed.”
The acting Public Protector spoke to the premier Sihle Zikalala last week. They agreed to deploy staff members from both sides to constitute a team to work together to conduct an audit of what aspects of remedial action had been implemented and what hadn’t been, so that those problems did not recur. Meanwhile, the decision to launch a new investigation was only taken last Friday. The team is still to develop an ‘investigation plan’. The plan will be rolled out after it has been approved. An inspection took place on Monday, pictures were taken, and people were interviewed on site, to gather as much information as possible. Segalwe said, “these kinds of matters, because they involve the health and safety of people, especially those who work there, they would naturally be expedited.”