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Muslim undertakers protest outside Salt River mortuary

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A group of Muslim undertakers under the Western Cape Muslim Undertakers Forum are gathering outside the Salt River Mortuary this morning to protest the current backlog of autopsies. The Forum says state mortuaries have had a long standing policy of prioritizing the autopsies Muslim bodies but this policy was allegedly changed on Tuesday to a first in first out basis, meaning that Muslim families can wait for up to two weeks for the release of a Muslim body. The forums Ebrahim Solomon says this is creating despair for Muslim families.

“We always had a good understanding with the state mortuaries, where we would get Muslim as soon as possible. However, this week, some individuals agreed to the fact that Muslim bodies should wait due to the backlog. We are not happy about this at all,” he told VOC News.

On Thursday, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) pressured the Western Cape Health Department to put in place interim measures to speed up the backlog, while it prepares to meet with health officials on Monday to resolve the problem. However, the Forum says they are “perturbed” that the Muslim Undertakers were not consulted by the department on the issue.

Shaykh Naeem Abrahams says decisions are being made on behalf of Muslims without consultation with the undertakers.

“We also in contact with government officials and we know for a fact that this decision was made before there was a backlog. We as the undertakers have been highlighting this problem for years now. We are saying there are people representing the Muslim ummah on matters they don’t understand.”

Solomon said Salt River mortuary had Muslim pathologists that were prepared to assist Muslims, but could not do anything due to instructions from management. While the MJC has said the situation at the mortuaries is temporary, the Undertaker Forum’s concern is that Muslim bodies will mount due to an increase in road accidents and crime towards the festive season.

“If we are going to take this lying down, this issue will go on and on,” he said.

“There are relatives here of people lying inside [the mortuary] …it’s difficult. None of us want this to happen. If it should be a high profile person whose body is lying there, it would be prioritised. Why can’t this be done for Muslims?”

One distraught mother, Fazlin Davids, says waiting for their children’s bodies is taking an emotional toll on their families.

“My daughter was shot by a stray bullet. Her three children are crying. Nobody can give me answer!”

Salt River mortuary

These two distraught mothers say waiting for their children's bodies is taking an emotional toll on their families.

Posted by Voice of the Cape Radio – VOC on Friday, 13 October 2017

Another mother urged the ulema and the MJC to support the families.

“They supposed to fight for us and we stand with them. They should be performing jumuah here in the streets!”

Following a meeting with the Western Cape Muslim Undertakers Forum at the Heideveld masjid last night, attorney and community activist Igsaan Higgins was appointed to provide legal counsel to the undertakers and may take the matter to the courts.

“There has always been a custom for mortuaries to release the bodies as soon as possible, so that Muslims can bury that loved ones in with a 24 hour burial period. While this is not a law, it is a custom and has been consistently practiced for a number of years. On that basis, my advice was to bring an application to court to assert that right in accordance with that custom.”

The appellate division, which comprises the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, has dealt with the issue of custom, and Higgins believes this could be successful.

Higgins said once the Forum has confirmed the instruction for legal action, he will proceed with the application.

The Western Cape Department of Health has not yet issued a response. VOC

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