A day at the funeral parlour

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FRANCISTOWN: Kagiso Funeral Parlor, a subsidiary of Funeral Services Group (FSG) is situated in Monarch, in the northern part of city.

This mortuary is the biggest in the North of the country and is constructed like a royal palace. In fact, if you did not know the place, you would easily confuse it with a residence of a very prominent person because it looks like a State House.

One drives for about two kilometres inside the mortuary yard to get to the entrance of the mortuary. Inside the premises, there are statues of white angels with wings, on both sides of the road. The premises are so neat and quiet it feels as though one is in a foreign country. When parking my car, I quickly notice a long chain of white-canopied hearses, up to 15 of them.

There are also about three white limousines with six wheels - four rear and two front wheels. "These limos must be reserved for wealthy families," I say to myself. At the back of this mortuary are abandoned old Monarch mines.

History reveals that in 1897 the Monarch mine was the largest in operation. About 12,000 tons of crushed ore were produced at this mine. Many mines at the time were run on a smaller scale. But today these mines are just open pits posing a serious threat to people. "You can come inside sir," says Makgabana Tsiane, the FSG branch supervisor, as we shook hands. As I enter inside the mortuary, I notice the beauty and elegance of superbly made caskets and coffins on display. Some of the caskets are grouped on a rotating motor.

Their prices range from P1,000 to P11,400. "But what is the point in buying expensive caskets for the dead?" I silently wondered. Before he joined FSG, Tsiane, 41, a human resource graduate, worked in Molepolole and subsequently joined the civil service in 2003 until 2009. He joined FSG at the end of last year.

"During the first months of my employment, it was really hard for me because every Friday morning, we have a count of the corpses. As a branch overseer, I have to be there and record the number of bodies for the weekend.

Also some of the weekends, I have to be at the funeral services, especially those of prominent people. During my first day at work here, it was really difficult especially after observing an embalming process. "Embalming is a process where we remove all the inside parts of corpses and is done only for bodies leaving the country. After removing all inside parts, we then apply our chemicals on the inside and outside the body to prevent it from decaying as bodies are transported over long distances.

After this, we then put zinc lining on the inside of the coffin. We also apply the same chemicals to decomposed bodies," said Tsiane. He added that they do embalming on bodies going to places such as India, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other countries where the deceased  came from. "But mostly we embalm Zimbabweans because they constitute the majority of bodies belonging to foreigners. It was also difficult at first because I am always the last one to leave work, three to four hours after everyone has left so obviously; fear would normally grip me. But now I have learnt to cope with the dead. They are just quiet, peaceful bodies that would do you no harm," outlined Tsiane.

But he also experienced disapproval from friends and family: "Just last week, I had a friend who visited me here at work. Surprisingly when I offered her a drink or water, she refused because she thought that maybe we used the same cooling system for bodies to store water but she was wrong because we also have fridges for food here (in the mortuary). I ended up buying her a drink at a nearby shop because she would not eat anything here. Also when I started working here, my elder sister could not believe it when I told her.

She had this belief that mortuary staffers wish people to die so they can make money. Time and again, she would ask if I had not found a better job? added Tsiane. However, he explained that they do not charge storage for bodies. "When we receive a body, we do not charge storage for the whole week but only charge the sale of a coffin or casket and transport because we have an insurance policy.

We will charge for a corpse only if the family decides to take it to another mortuary. Our price for coffins usually include bottled water, cabbage and samp," added Tsiane. After an interview, we proceeded to the chapel.

"This is sort of a church section whereby the people come to sing, pray and collect the deceased. Many people can be accommodated in this room," said Tsiane. Then we moved on to the refrigeration room where bodies are kept and preserved. As they opened the door, and pulled the tray with both hands and I saw a body, I recalled his words, "they are quiet, peaceful bodies that would do you no harm".  Peaceful indeed; and the whole experience was not frightening any more as it increased my knowledge as I now understand their processes better than I did before.

Editor's Comment
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