Battle on Behalf of Grieving Parents: End in Sight

Sonja Smith-Janse van Rensburg. Photos: and provided

The remarkable Sonja Smith-Janse van Rensburg’s battle on behalf of grieving parents will come to a head in June. Sonja shares her story with

The wind has stopped blowing. Outside the Bistro On Beach in Melkbosstrand the sea looks impossibly blue. The colour echoes the happy hue that Sonja Smith-Janse van Rensburg, Managing Director of Sonja Smith Funeral Group and founder of The Voice of the Unborn Baby, favors and wears today. “I am so excited,” she says. And it’s not just because she is on holiday in this coastal town, and enjoying a break from what has been a 13-year-long battle on behalf of grieving parents.

To the High Court
On 21 June Sonja will ask the High Court in Pretoria to amend a law that denies parents who experience pregnancy loss at 26 weeks of gestation or younger the right to bury or cremate the foetuses. At the moment these foetuses are incinerated with medical waste.

A battle over a matter of days
“Our laws are outdated. I am trusting for a favorable outcome,” Sonja says. “The country is behind me.” She remains calm while she talks about the current legislation, and its emotional fallout. Foetuses of 26 weeks and more are allowed burials; but foetuses below that period of gestation are not.

Sonja gives an example, “Just before I flew down (from Centurion) I got a call from a woman whose daughter lost her foetus at 25 weeks and two days. I found the little foetus in a bucket, just before it was going to be taken away with the medical waste. She’s been given a dignified funeral.”

Grieving parents
For Sonja it is easy to put herself in the shoes of the parents. She knows many of them personally. One of them, Laurika Steenkamp, joined her at the High Court in Pretoria on International Women’s Day when she lodged the Application. Laurika suffered from bad depression after been told that her miscarried twin girls Milan and Lilo (23 weeks) were incinerated with medical waste.

For several years afterwards, Laurika hosted the Borrowed Angels Healing Concert at Artscape in August of every year in commemoration of her twin girls. Grief has turned her into an activist, and at the High Court in Pretoria she held up a poignant placard saying, ‘Baby shoes for sale. Never worn’.

Did not look for this
Sonja stumbled upon this battle by chance, 13 years ago. She was summoned to a hospital to fetch a set of stillborn triplets. When she got to the hospital, they were gone. “You called me!” I protested. “Where are they? They said: ‘There goes the medical waste.’ I saw to it that they were found,'” she says. A note of steely determination creeps into her voice. “They were given a dignified send-off. When you are not afforded the opportunity to say goodbye, it’s like a missing child.

An infringement of your basic human rights
Not having the choice to elect what should happen with the fetal remains of what you already perceive as your prospective child, is an infringement of your basic human rights in terms of the Constitution, namely the right to dignity, privacy and equality.”

The interview is at an end. Sonja gets up and smiles; she’s off to visit in Somerset West for the day; off to recharge her batteries for the big day in June.



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