We can’t afford to die

BY GIFT PHIRI
HARARE - Zimbabwe's economic disaster is horrifyingly evident in the morgue at Harare Central Hospital, packed to more than three times its capacity with the dead that relatives can't afford to bury.
The morgue, designed for 164 corpses, holds nearly 700. Trays often hold more th

an one adult body, along with the tiny corpses of infants. Others, shrouded in canvas and cotton sheets, lie in gurneys or on the floors of the refrigerated corridors.
Some of the unclaimed cadavers are those of vagrants found dead on the streets at the height of winter here.
Others are the victims of violence kept for as long as three years during police investigations, often delayed by fuel shortages and logistics problems amid Zimbabwe’s worst political and economic crisis since independence in 1980.
Many of the corpses are awaiting collection by impoverished relatives, including some who “just disappear and abandon them” in hopes they will be given decent “paupers’ burials” by the city, said Dr. Chris Tapfumaneyi, the hospital’s medical superintendent.
As a result of the crisis amid rising mortality rates, Tapfumaneyi said recently that hospital officials had decided to give dozens of the bodies to the city’s medical school.
The hospital recently donated 42 cadavers to the University of Zimbabwe medical school, the first such donation for at least three years, he said. The medical school has promised a proper burial of the remains after they have been used for teaching purposes.
In a nation plagued by a hunger crisis and an estimated 3,000 AIDS-related deaths a week, funeral homes hired to bury the unclaimed dead are overwhelmed.
A routine burial at the sprawling Mbudzi graveyard – including cemetery and grave fees, a casket and transportation – costs at least $75,000.
That’s three times what the average Zimbabwean’s monthly income and is well out of reach of the 80 percent of people here living in poverty. Most rural poor bury their dead on family plots in the bush, following African spiritual traditions.
As the Harare municipal cemeteries filled with AIDS victims in recent years, a raft of practical suggestions – for mass graves, for bodies to be buried vertically, and for cremation – were met with horrified outcry by political and tribal leaders.
Zimbabweans of Indian descent favor cremation, but in July, Harare’s cash-strapped city council ran out of imported fuel for the furnaces at its only crematorium.
Since then, private funeral homes have accumulated nearly 100 bodies due for cremation. A few bodies have been taken to the second city of Bulawayo’s diesel-fired crematorium.
But diesel fuel, like regular fuel, is also in short supply, and Bulawayo’s ordinances make it difficult to cremate a person who did not live there.
Leaders of Harare’s tiny Hindu community have said they are considering waiving strict religious rules to allow non-Hindus to be cremated in their small diesel-fired crematorium here.

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