Mortuary workers are protesting “unbearable” working conditions and embarked on a go-slow on Friday. They accuse the department of ignoring their grievances – such as broken air-conditioners, broken toilets, old uniforms and lack of cleaning equipment – for more than three years.

Dhlomo confirmed that there was a backlog of more than 26 bodies waiting for autopsies in the government morgue because the forensic pathology staff said they would perform a maximum of two bodies per day until the department gave in to their demands. Normally, the mortuary performs between 10 and 12 autopsies every day.

Earlier on Tuesday, Dhlomo  – who has a diploma in forensic pathology – went to the mortuary and personally performed two autopsies. The mortuary services the uMsunduzi, Richmond and Mooi River areas.

Dhlomo has since given his assurance that more autopsies will be completed, starting from Wednesday, in order to help the affected families bury their loved ones.

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He said he has also instructed the department’s legal unit to get a court interdict to force the employees to either return to optimal performance – or face expulsion in terms of labour relations legislation which governs essential services – while the department implements its contingency measures to speed up the completion of autopsies.

Dhlomo also apologised to the grieving families who are now being subjected to secondary trauma, assuring them that the department will do its utmost to ensure that they are able to conduct burials from Wednesday onwards.

“We were informed that there’s a crisis at the Fort Napier Mortuary, where workers want to force the department to discuss issues that are being dealt with at the National Bargaining Council. We’ve actually indicated to them that these issues are being dealt with. We know that this action is not led by the union. They’re not part of this,” Dhlomo said.

“Families are here, desperate and crying. They are supposed to have buried over the weekend, and they have not. The people of South Africa will judge for themselves what kind of people these are. I am here to add my weight to contribute towards making sure that families will be able to bury their loved ones, starting from tomorrow and the weekend. We want to make sure that families that need to bury their loved ones can do so.”

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Dhlomo said he has reported the matter to the leadership of Cosatu in the province and has asked the national department of health to urgently get an interdict to get the workers out of the premises or to work at normal speed.

– African News Agency