MASERU — Khubetsoana residents are up in arms against a local funeral parlour which they want shut down.
Residents say the mortuary, run by Martin’s Funeral Services, should shut down or relocate elsewhere because their area is reserved for residential and small grocery shops and not mortuaries.
They also say it is against Basotho culture for young children to be exposed to corpses.
They say the security wall built around the mortuary is not high enough to prevent children from seeing what is taking place in the funeral home.
Martin’s Funeral Services is however arguing their business is perfectly legal as they acquired a building permit from the Maseru City Council (MCC) after getting an Environmental Impact Assessment by the Ministry of Tourism and Environment.
The funeral home also is in possession of a document certified by Khubetsoana’s Chief Hlathe Majara showing that there had been wide public consultations before the mortuary was granted an operating licence.
The dispute has set the stage for a bruising fight between villagers and Martin’s Funeral Services.
The villagers this week told the Lesotho Times that they do not want the mortuary anywhere near their houses as they had not been consulted.
A community representative, Mohau Mokhoromeng, said Martin’s Funeral Services never consulted them when they started the business.
Mokhoromeng said the funeral parlour’s manager, only identified as Mrs Motsumi, never bothered to attend the villagers’ meetings where their concerns were raised.
“She didn’t consult us,” Mokhoromeng said.
“She talked to some residents who were working at fato-fato (a food-for-work programme) in Ha-Mabote village who said they needed that development.”
He added: “We suggested that she should go and build the (mortuary) for people who needed it and leave us alone because we are not comfortable with the project.”
“But we were shocked to see that our chief had authorised the business yet he had not spoken to us as his people to find out if it’s a development that we needed in our village,” he said.
Another villager, Manka Rapholo, said a mortuary was the last thing they wanted in their community.
“They should have consulted with us first but even if they did we would have turned them down as we don’t need a mortuary in our village,” Rapholo said.
“This kind of business traumatises us in the village and even if they build big walls we won’t be happy because we know what is kept inside,” he said.
Some of the residents said Motsumi had been invited to attend community meetings on several occasions but she never attended.
“We invited the mortuary owner on several occasions to some of our meetings and she never attended any of them or sent any representative,” said a villager.
An assistant to the chief, Santi Rampopo, said they had a meeting with the Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Trade, Sam Mphaka, who promised to engage the police and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences to investigate how Motsumi acquired documents allowing her to build the mortuary there.
Mphaka allegedly promised to investigate why Chief Majara certified a document that said Motsumi consulted the people knowing that she had not.
“It is going to be investigated how the chief could certify the document yet he knew very well that people that were interviewed were not his villagers,” Rampopo said.
“The document was done in 2008 and the mortuary was opened in 2011,” he said.
MCC spokesperson, Lintle Moerane, said they gave Martin’s Funeral Services mortuary a certificate to operate based on the Impact Environmental Assessment report they got from the Environmental Health Department.
“The IEA report showed that they had passed and we had to do our duty to give them the certificate but then we heard that villagers were not happy,” Moerane said.
“It was also alleged that people who were consulted were working at a fato-fato in Ha-Mabote, which is another village,” she said.
Motsumi said she could not immediately comment as she was out of the country and promised to give her side of the story today.
Efforts to contact Chief Hlathe and Mphaka were not successful last night.