Shambolic and insensitive elements of the memorial and funeral services of Eusebius McKaiser have left his loved ones with a bitter taste
Grieving family and friends of the late Eusebius McKaiser have spoken out about the shoddy and insensitive handling of his memorial and funeral last month by a leading funeral insurance and burial services company.
McKaiser, a highly regarded queer author, journalist, political commentator, and broadcaster, died unexpectedly on 30 May following a suspected epileptic seizure.
The AVBOB Mutual Assurance Society, which was responsible for McKaiser’s public memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday 6 June, and his funeral service in Makhanda on Saturday 10 June, has come under fire for its handling of the events.
In a public letter of complaint to AVBOB, his widower Nduduzo Nyanda, Scott Burnett, and other friends and relatives of McKaiser expressed their disappointment and demanded reparation for the mishandling of the events.
Despite the cost of the proceedings being paid by Nyanda, AVBOB staff allegedly attempted to promote their brand through banners, branded tissues, and water bottles at the memorial, without consulting the family.
AVBOB accussed of using the death of Eusebius McKaiser as a marketing opportunity
During the funeral service, further issues arose. Family members discovered subpar cosmetic work on McKaiser’s body, forcing them to provide their own lip-gloss to improve his appearance. The casket’s lining prominently featured an AVBOB logo, and branded materials such as tents, tissues, and water bottles were also placed in the cemetery without discussion or debate.
The handling of the casket proved shambolic, as AVBOB failed to provide scaffolding of the correct size, leading to an undignified struggle during the proceedings. The casket ultimately crashed to the bottom of the grave, causing distress to the mourners. Additionally, AVBOB staff allegedly prioritised the display of branding materials over providing timely assistance.
The letter also highlights the engraving of the AVBOB logo on McKaiser’s headstone without permission, as well as the lack of communication and an investigation into the incident.
McKaiser’s family and friends demanded that AVBOB takes reparative actions, including the replacement of the headstone without the AVBOB logo, a full refund for the funeral costs, and a published apology admitting the mistakes made and committing to improved business practices.
They wrote that the company exploits “vulnerability to sell financial services to the living, and that you provide neither comfort nor empathy.” They added that, that is “calculated to maximise your profitability, and your business model centres on marketing these services to grieving people, rather than comforting them.”
AVBOB’s explanation and apology falls short
In a responding statement, AVBOB claimed that branding tents, vehicles, and other items at funerals is a common practice. This, it said, is “not to attain advertising value” but “assists mourners to follow the correct motorcade and go to the correct burial site in the cemetery,” especially when multiple funerals are taking place simultaneously.
AVBOB added that the presence of their branded water and tissues was routine and that these items were removed upon the family’s request.
Regarding the branding of tombstones, AVBOB stated that it is a standard industry practice to include their logo as a means of future identification for repairs. However, the company acknowledged that the brand identification at the funeral caused offence and expressed a willingness to remove the logo from McKaiser’s tombstone if requested by the family.
The company also acknowledged the issue experienced with the lowering device and the repositioning of the casket during the ceremony. The company insisted that the incident does not align with their service standards and committed to addressing the matter internally.
AVBOB apologised for any offence caused and said that a meeting has been scheduled with Nyanda on 21 July to discuss the matter further.
Burnett tweeted that he was unconvinced by AVBOB’s statement. “Their response adds insult to injury,” he wrote. “They say their branding helps ppl find the funeral so why is their logo embroidered on the lining of the casket? In case the deceased comes back to life and wants a quick word? Tsek.”