Influenced by a self-proclaimed prophet, a widow in South Africa has not buried her husband more than six weeks after his death in the belief that he will rise from the dead.
Paul Meintjies died at the age of 77 on July 1, and his demise has brought him far more to the attention of the people of the one-horse town of Hertzogville in the conservative Free State Province than his life ever did.
Home to 25,000 people, the town, 250 miles south-west of Johannesburg, has no traffic lights, no hotel, no cinema and not much entertainment.
That is, until Meintjies died and his widow, 76-year-old Anna Meintjies, declared her belief that he will return.
She, their son Pieter and daughter Petro Joseph have been convinced by Pastor David Francis, the founder of a Christian sect called ‘God’s Kingdom on Earth’, that Meintjies will indeed return. His latest message through the local newspaper on Friday is that “the countdown has begun”.
Wrapped in white plastic sheeting, Meintjies has been kept at a temperature of -1°C in a small mortuary since his death after a stroke, all because of the claims by Francis, a former bank manager.
Local undertaker Nico Foulds, who knew Meintjies “very well”, is exasperated. “I’ll try anything to get rid of him.” He raised his daily fee from £22 to £87 in an attempt to get the family to agree to have him buried, but to no avail.
He also asked other members of the dead man’s family to order him to stop storing the body. When that did not work, relatives of the deceased began planning to have him buried on the grounds that his human rights were being violated.
Foulds said that while the widow expects her husband to return to the land of the living, she has not been to see him, but his son and Francis, who is now living with the family, were there a few weeks after his death. “They tried to raise him. They took off their shoes and they prayed. I could hear him opening the sheets,” he said.
Local church leaders said there was widespread concern in the community. Dr Johan van der Westhuizen, minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, said that while the resurrection was “not impossible”, the community is “confused”. “A lot of people would like to console the family, but they stay away.”
Paul’s “very angry” sister, Hettie Vorster, just wants him to be buried. Other undertakers said they had only ever heard of one similar case. One said: “The first one I read about in the Bible and the second one seems to be this bloke in Hertzogville. I hope it doesn’t catch on.”