In a macabre, “one-in-a-million” protest, Buffalo City cemetery workers refused to bury an empty coffin in the Haven Hills cemetery this week.
After much discussion and negotiation, the coffin was eventually removed by funeral parlour, Avbob, who owned the casket, and disposed of as medical waste.
The incident happened on Monday, when Avbob arrived with the casket – and official permission to bury it – at Haven Hills.
Workers had objected, said Buffalo City Metro spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya, who said their position, that they [workers] would not bury an empty coffin in the graveyard was “understandable”.
Avbob’s group communication manager Marius du Plessis, said a family had changed their mind about the coffin they were purchasing, after the body had already been placed in the coffin.
However, Ngwenya said there was some legal confusion because the metro bylaws lacked clarity or guidelines on burying an empty casket in a municipal graveyard.
Ngwenya said that BCM’s cemeteries management had given the go-ahead, but workers had refused to do so. He said it would have helped if Avbob had lodged an official application for the process, so that there was a paper trail. He noted that while the city did have experts on the disposal of waste, none worked in the cemeteries department.
Ngwenya said this was a “one in a million” case but that the city would learn from it.
Du Plessis said it was company policy to destroy coffins which had been used, but the coffin was steel, and could not be incinerated.