Corpses in Namibia Await Cremation Officer’s Return From Stress Leave

HUNDREDS of corpses waiting for cremation have been placed on ice for an indefinite period because the city’s sole cremation officer is on “stress leave”.

Cremation officer Obed Haraseb (44) is based at the crematorium at the Pionierspark cemetery, as bodies have been piling up at undertakers. Three-hundred other bodies are unclaimed and lying at the Windhoek police mortuary.

The 44-year-old crematorium, operated by the City of Windhoek, is the only one which offers cremation services in the country, with only one cremation officer qualified and experienced enough to operate the oven.

The Namibian understands that Haraseb has been on extended sick leave for over a month now since April, while grieving families are running short of patience while waiting for him to return to work. Some clients said they have been calling Haraseb to request that he returns to work.

Although Haraseb confirmed that he was on indefinite “sick leave”, he declined to comment further.

A reliable source at the City of Windhoek said Haraseb was on extended “stress leave”, and they were unsure about when he would return to work.

The source also said he has been under a lot of stress because he has not been receiving the necessary support from his seniors to effectively do his job.

Other frustrations include the fact that the crematorium has only been operating with one oven, although the City of Windhoek in 2015 built a new facility at a cost of N$15 million.

“The new facility has been non-functional since its completion,” said the source, adding that Haraseb was also frustrated because the City of Windhoek has been ignoring his requests for gloves, masks and a strong air freshener to get rid of the smell of decomposed bodies.

The source also said some of the unclaimed bodies which Haraseb would have to cremate have been lying in the police mortuary since 2008.

“There are over 300 unclaimed bodies from the police mortuary which need to be cremated. The stench from these bodies is terrible, and it is not healthy to inhale the smell while working with such bodies. It smells like hell in there,” said the source.

Many of the bodies have apparently been kept in the hope of relatives showing up at some point to identify and claim the deceased.

“Some of these bodies have identitities, but still no one comes to claim them,” added the source.

Namibian Police Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga said arrangements are sometimes made with the city for unclaimed bodies to be cremated.

“Depending on the legal due process and the costs involved, we sometimes opt to have some of the unclaimed bodies cremated,” he stated.

The cremation and burial section officer at the City of Windoek, Mathilde Moncho, who is responsibe for supplying gloves, masks and air fresheners to the crematorium, declined to comment yesterday, referring all questions to the city’s spokesperson, Lydia Amutenya.

Amutenya confirmed that the city has not conducted any cremations for some time due to maintenance to the oven, and because the cremation officer was on leave.

“In the meantime, arrangements have been made to ensure that cremation continues, and the undertakers will be informed accordingly,” she said.

Both Avbob Funeral Services and Classic Funerals and Cremation Services, two of the leading undertakers in the country, declined to say how many bodies are waiting to be cremated.

An Avbob employee, who cannot be identified, however, confirmed that bodies have been lying in wait for Haraseb’s return.

A member of an affected family, Nici Bachran, told The Namibian yesterday that they have been waiting to cremate their grandmother, who passed away on 24 April, but the City of Windhoek kept telling them to wait for Haraseb to return from leave.

Bachran said she knew of about 34 bodies which have been booked for cremation by undertakers.

“How come the City of Windhoek only has one qualified person for the job? This is really affecting my entire family and our finances,” she stated.

Bachran said her family has already spent a lot of money preparing for a farewell ceremony and on accommodation bookings at Tsumeb for a gathering to disperse her grandmother’s ashes.

“We want answers. They keep telling us that he will return soon,” she said.

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Source: The Namibian

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