TSUMKWE – Dysfunctional mortuaries in Tsumkwe settlement have put a strain on residents of Tsumkwe constituency. Since 2015, the mortuary at Tsumkwe Health Clinic has been unusable, at times forcing residents to travel hundreds of kilometers with their dead.
A second mortuary in Tsumkwe is at the Tsumkwe Police Station. When working it can store three bodies, however, it has been out of service since August 2017. In Gam settlement, a mortuary with a history of breakdowns has been out of service since at least December 2018.
Out of the four mortuaries in the constituency, only one, a diesel operated mortuary at the Mangetti Dune Health Centre that solely operates on a generator, is currently functioning.
In a region already known for being heavily marginalized, residents and healthcare workers say transporting corpses hours away presents significant challenges.
Next of kin, who often do not own cars, scramble to arrange the transportation of bodies with friends, family, or even constituency office vehicles.
“Sometimes the family has a planned burial for a certain day, but then they have to delay that because of transportation,” said a nurse at the Tsumkwe Health Clinic, who requested for anonymity as bureaucracy in government does not allow her to speak to media.
With both mortuaries in Tsumkwe out of service, residents in and around the settlement must travel on a gravel road with no cellphone network either 80 kilometres to Mangetti Dune or 300 kilometres to Grootfontein to reach a morgue that can preserve their relative.
Since the Gam Health Clinic’s mortuary is also out of service, community members have to drive a corpse 180 kilometres to the mortuary in Mangetti Dune. If that facility is full, a family must travel either 300 kilometres to Gobabis or almost 400 kilometres to a morgue in Grootfontein. Once funeral arrangements have been made, transportation is still needed for the body to be brought back home for burial which is a logistical nightmare.
“It’s a big challenge. Once someone passes away these families have to run around looking for a car. And you know my people...some of them don’t know Grootfontein, so we just help each other out. We are helping each other out,” said Tsumkwe Constituency Councillor Fransina Gauz.
“Tsumkwe is not like Grootfontein. In Grootfontein you can go to private mortuaries, but here in the bush...you can see how the place is. It’s not healthy to take someone who passed away and drive them from here to Mangetti Dune. It’s too far,” the councillor added.
A Ministry of Health and Social Services (MOHSS) report dated 17 December, 2018, states the Tsumkwe Health Clinic mortuary has an “internal leakage and the compressor that has seized due to a leakage” and that the Ministry of Works and Transport has recommended a “new complete system/unit be put up since trying to fix the current system is a waste of money as the leaking of the gas is internal and cannot be fixed.”
An officer at the Tsumkwe Police Station said their morgue is waiting for a new cylinder of petrol from the ministry of works. However, a works official in Tsumkwe said the station is responsible for its own refills. Jason Goresab, an enrolled nurse at Gam Health Clinic, says his clinic’s mortuary continually short circuits when it gets wet from rain leaking inside the room.
Acting Otjozondjupa Regional Health Director Samuel Shilikomwenyo said his ministry is aware of the status of the mortuaries in the constituency. He confirmed the morgue at the Tsumkwe Health Clinic needs to be completely overhauled but that financial and budgetary issues at the ministry are behind its delayed renovation.
Shilikomwenyo added the mortuaries in the nearby villages of Gam and Mangetti Dune are slated to be updated at some point in the future. He asked constituency members to be patient, assuring that as soon as funds are available the ministry will be able to attend to improving the mortuaries in the constituency.
“The people work together but the part where it’s challenging is that there are many villages and some of them are far. Some people live where there’s no network. So when someone dies, it takes time to reach police,” said Ju/’hoansi Traditional Authority Chief Bobo Tsamkxao.
Nurse Goreseb says despite the immense challenge, Gam community members have adjusted to the situation.
“Everyone helps each other. They will always give a helping hand. There was this one time someone passed away. My ambulance driver gave his private car for the corpse to be taken to Mangetti. He just knows the people...I don’t think they’re relatives, but he lent his car for free for the corpse to be taken,” he said.
Close to 10 000 people reside in the Tsumkwe constituency, which is situated on the Eastern side of the Otjozondjupa region. As the region’s population grows, it becomes more difficult for the community to depend on the single four-chamber morgue located in Mangetti Dune.
A nurse at the Mangetti Dune Health Clinic expressed concern over how much pressure the non-working mortuaries put on the limited space available at her facility.
She said nurses are sometimes forced to stack two bodies in a chamber meant for a single corpse. Other times, they have to turn families away.
“They should make a plan to fix the mortuary in Tsumkwe. Or even this one since we are only having four spots. This is like a center of the whole Tsumkwe constituency. It’s a health center operating for three clinics. And all of the clinics, when they have a dead body, they are bringing it this side. Even the surrounding villages. When they have a body they’re bringing it here. So that’s a challenge. If they can, please extend or fix the ones that are out of order,” she said.
*This article was written by Kaylan Shipanga, an Information Officer at the Ministry of Information and Communication Otjozondjupa regional office.