November 30, 2023

Power Outages in South Africa Affecting Even the Deceased

Power Outages in South Africa Affecting Even the Deceased

Scheduled blackouts, known as load shedding, have burdened Africa’s most industrialized economy for over a decade, as Eskom’s creaking coal-fired plants struggle to meet demand. Below is how power outages in South Africa affecting even the deceased.

Power Outages in South Africa Affecting Even the Deceased

Johannesburg, South Africa: The ongoing power crisis in South Africa has caused widespread disruption, with citizens and businesses often going without electricity for prolonged periods. Among the affected industries, mortuaries are particularly vulnerable, as undertakers are urging families to hold fast-track funerals in order to prevent decay and ease the pressure on morgue refrigeration systems. The South African Funeral Practitioners Association (SAFPA) has reported a significant increase in the number of putrefied bodies being received.

“Mortuaries in South Africa Forced to Adapt to Power Outages: Shortening Burial Time and Incurring High Generator Costs”

What SAFPA recommended? 

The South African Funeral Practitioners Association (SAFPA) has recommended that funerals be held within four days to avoid the risk of decay and ease pressure on morgue refrigeration systems. This may require a change in cultural practices, as traditional funerals in South Africa often take place one or two weeks after the death, with open casket viewings on the day of the funeral. 

To mitigate the impact of power outages caused by state monopoly Eskom, mortuaries are using diesel generators to keep their facilities cool. However, this has led to a significant increase in energy costs.

What NFDA spokeman said?

According to Dududu Magano, spokesman for the National Funeral Directors’ Association, “smaller parlors are struggling to make ends meet because now most of their funds are going towards dealing with” the outages.

As Eskom’s aging coal-fired plants struggle to keep up with demand, scheduled blackouts—also known as load shedding—have burdened Africa’s biggest industrialized economy for more than ten years.

However, over the past year, the outages have increased to new heights, with power outages sometimes occurring up to four times each day for up to four and a half hours at a time.

Grace Matila, a Johannesburg undertaker of ten years, blames the outages for her refrigerator’s compressor failing recently.

“It stopped functioning as a result of the frequent on and off, but fortunately, I had a backup compressor. What would have happened if I hadn’t? Can you imagine?” She told AFP that she would have to charge her customers more for their electricity.

Ripple Effect

Industry laws require funeral homes and mortuaries to have backup generators, but not all do. 

“Generators aren’t inexpensive,” said Mike Nqakula, owner of a funeral house in Uitenhage, around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Johannesburg, adding that many others in his area do not have them.

“I know a person whose parlor had to close down because a decaying body was discovered,” the 61-year-old told AFP. And undertakers’ concerns aren’t limited to preserving bodies.

The blackouts also make it difficult to obtain the official documentation required to carry out funerals or cremations, because Home Affairs Ministry offices go offline when the power goes out, according to Magano. According to him, the outages had a “ripple effect” on the entire sector.

When phone batteries run out and can’t be charged, or when network signals are poor because mobile towers are down, phone conversations might be hit or miss. As a result, people may have trouble getting in touch with paramedics to ask them to remove a body when a death happens at home or to certify that a person is dead. That’s how power outages in South Africa affect the deceased.

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