A neighbour woke me up in the witching hours of Tuesday seeking transport for her seriously ill mother.
I grudgingly obliged. But before we could get any assistance at the hospital, the old lady passed on. In the twinkling of an eye, a hospital guard, who had been patronising us in the hope of wringing some cash, became unusually hostile.
He gave us a 30-minute ultimatum to remove the body from where it was.
“The fact that this woman died before being attended means she was brought in dead and cannot be taken to our mortuary. Make sure you phone a funeral parlour of your choice to remove the body from here,” he bellowed while pointing at a noticeboard that had a list of funeral parlours.
Before we could even walk up to the noticeboard, we were accosted by all manner of men and women, some of who were reeking booze, offering their services. Death, though grim, seems to be sweet music to these people.
“Allow us to take the body to our parlour and then you can come to our offices in the morning for further negotiations,” suggested one elderly man.
“Mudhara siyayi tikusoterei isusu. Hatidhure plus tine firiji nyumbi nechapel yemandorokwati. We also have budget coffins and this funeral will not cost you much if you let us handle it for you. Tinorova graft mashugira,” interjected another guy who was part of the melee.
Before he finished talking, an elderly woman pulled me aside. She claimed to have connections at a leading mobile network service provider and could process everything if we could prove the deceased was covered by that network’s funeral scheme.
“We are here to lighten your burden. We have good coffins and reliable cars that can take you to any destination within Zimbabwe. Try us and you will never want to be served by any other company,” she said.
As the negotiations were taking place, the impatient guard kept on prodding me to make a decision as soon as possible.
Before I could explain to him that I was only a neighbour who could not make a decision on behalf of the bereaved family, he was on my case and hurling expletives.
This is now a common occurrence at hospitals, which have become a theatre for self-styled undertakers to tout and canvass for business. The undertakers now work in cahoots with hospital guards and officials. In most cases, the bereaved are shepherded into their arms by hospital staff.
“These people are now a menace. They work with hospital staff in identifying potential clients in exchange for kickbacks. Also, the moment they see someone crying in the corridors or car park, they rush to comfort them and in the process offer their services,” Mr Clive Maroto of Mbare told this writer.
Most backyard funeral parlours now deploy hordes of youths to hospitals to wrest business from established funeral service providers.
However, Mr Tavaziva Bondo of Glen Norah believes they need to be stopped in their tracks.
“Those guys should be arrested. They are fleecing hospitals because they sometimes get bodies released for burial without paying outstanding bills. The guys also do not have mortuaries and body-washing facilities as they do business in their vans. They are cheap but they are exposing people to diseases. No one knows where and how they dispose of chemicals they would have used. We are in trouble as bereaved families because we are also being charged for services not provided,” he said.
One funeral service provider described the happenings at hospitals as “dog-eat-dog”.
“The early bird catches the worm. We need business so that we can put food on the table. We cater for all kinds of clients but our charges are reasonable.”
Gentle reader, it is my hope that authorities will intervene and ensure mourners are not harassed and duped at hospitals.