Race Row over Funerals

Charlene Somduth, IOL (South Afrida), January 7, 2018

Outraged Indian funeral parlour owners have vowed to fight an imminent ban from operating in black areas, dismissing the directive from a new industry association as being akin to apartheid policy and going against the constitution.

“It is wrong for this group to stop us from trading. Undertakers must not be pushed around and we must stand up for our rights,” said Logan Chetty of the KwaZulu-Natal Funeral Directors Association.

But Nkosentsha Shezi, secretary-general of the National Funeral Parlour Association of SA (Nafupa-SA), said the decision was aimed at creating equity within the industry.

“For years Indians and whites have been operating in our community and our black business owners have been left struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

Nafupa-SA was formed in 2016 after some members broke from the National Funeral Parlour Association (Nafupa) because their views were not supported.

“There is no need for panic. All we are saying is that we are tired of black people being consumers and not producers of anything,” he said.

Shezi said the ultimate aim was to build the economy of black townships and rural areas.

“This is about equity and redress of disparities created by hundreds of years of colonisation and apartheid where blacks were not allowed to be producers of anything, but consumers.”

Shezi said it was not “correct” that blacks could not bury their loved ones “in a manner befitting to our culture and heritage”.

“In the funeral business we are encouraging our Indian and white colleagues to concentrate on their suburbs and leave our townships and villages to black undertakers,” he said.

“Is that too much to ask?”

Nafupa’s president, AG Maseko, said he had formed his organisation in 2015 and had many Indian members.

“In 2016, the group broke away from the organisation because we did not approve and support their views of bringing politics and segregation into the industry. Nafupa does not support what they are lobbying for because we believe that business sees no race or colour.”

Maseko said it was up to individuals to decide which funeral parlour services they wanted to use and the onus was on those funeral parlours to provide the best service.

“I want to urge funeral parlour owners that Nafupa does not discriminate against race and that our doors are open for anyone.”

Chetty, of the KwaZulu-Natal Funeral Directors Association, said undertakers had a right to trade and banning them from doing so went against the constitution.

“We are South Africans. We claim our space because we were born in this country and we have every right to trade here. We run legitimate businesses and we should not be prevented from doing so because of the colour of our skin.”

Chetty said communities had become more integrated.

“Chatsworth, for example, used to be an Indian area but now things have changed. In Mobeni Heights alone we have 60% blacks living in the community. How is this ban going to work?”

Funeral parlour owner Dhayalan Moodley, who has been operating in the industry for more than two decades, said that based on current trends, Indian and white undertakers get work in black areas because of their reputations and through funeral policies.

“Us not conducting business in the townships will affect the communities more than us undertakers,” he said.

“It should be noted that various undertakers over the years have been sympathetic to needs of impoverished families.”

Moodley said it was up to bereaved families to decide which funeral parlour they wanted to use and no one should be restricted. “We are not against transformation but it needs to be addressed through the proper channels. Families should not be exploited during their time of bereavement.”

Another funeral parlour owner, who requested anonymity, described the ban as ridiculous and a step back towards apartheid. “This group wants to fight the wrongs of apartheid by implementing the same notions that the then (apartheid) government imposed on South Africans.

“It does not make sense.”

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