Home South African Cold cases: 3,400 unclaimed bodies in state mortuaries

Cold cases: 3,400 unclaimed bodies in state mortuaries

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The National Department of Health has revealed that government mortuaries across the country are saddled with more than 3,400 unclaimed bodies of people who passed away but their families have not showed up to claim their loved ones’ remains.

Government mortuaries across the country are saddled with more than 3,400 unclaimed bodies. File picture

THE NATIONAL Department of Health has revealed that government mortuaries across the country are saddled with more than 3,400 unclaimed bodies of people who passed away but their families have not showed up to claim their loved ones’ remains.

To open some space for more bodies streaming in every day from deaths which are mainly unnatural, particularly from murder scenes and accidents, the department is burdened with the sad reality of having to store the bodies underground, through what is called a “pauper’s burial”.

When a body of a deceased person is not collected for a period of 30 days, and public calls have been reasonably made for relatives to come and identify and collect the body, the government facilities or municipalities are empowered to give the unclaimed bodies pauper’s burials.

National spokesperson for the department, Foster Mohale said that the government has been amplifying calls for community members to actively search for their missing relatives, including extending that search to government mortuaries across the country.

“The Department of Health would like to urge families with missing relatives suspected to be dead to look for them at Forensic Pathology Service facilities, otherwise known as government mortuaries, to check if they are not part of thousands of unclaimed bodies,” said Mohale.

“There are 3,465 unclaimed bodies at government mortuaries across the country. We encourage families to visit mortuaries to check if their missing loved ones are not part of these unclaimed bodies, so they find closure and afford them a proper burial.”

Mohale said to claim the bodies of the deceased, family members need to bring along copies of their ID documents as well as a copy of the deceased person’s documents.

“According to the law, bodies which remain unidentified and unclaimed for a period of 30 days, should be given a pauper’s burial.

“However, the government will document and archive all the details of such bodies, including a photograph, fingerprints and blood or tissue sample in case the family members come forward later,” he said.

Statistics from the Department of Health revealed that KwaZulu-Natal leads the way with 1,336 unclaimed bodies, followed by Gauteng with 770, while the Western Cape and Eastern Cape each have 302 bodies, Limpopo has 283 unclaimed bodies, the North West has 266, Mpumalanga is stuck with 82 bodies, the Free State has 73; and the Northern Cape is looking after 51 unclaimed bodies.

Clarifying the predicament, Deputy Minister of Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said there is a direct link between the massive murder rate in South Africa and the bodies piling up at government facilities. He said KwaZulu-Natal, with the prevalence of murder cases in the province, understandably leads the pack in the number of unclaimed bodies.

“All these cases are as a result of unnatural deaths. When someone has been picked up stabbed, killed, or shot – they come to the government’s Department of Health mortuaries. They are brought in by the police or anybody. It becomes an inquest (case) for the police,” Dhlomo told broadcaster eNCA in an interview.

“What we then do as a department, we conduct a post-mortem and have the body ready for burial when certain things have been taken place and (the case) is ready to go to court and say what was the cause of death.

“Now, somebody has to come and be from the Dhlomo family or Molefe family to claim that body and take it for burial.

“By law, we are supposed to keep that body for up to 30 days and then we must work with the police to say nobody has come, can we then do an underground storage, meaning a pauper’s burial.

“When you store the bodies underground, someone can come to say that person who was burnt in that house was my uncle, here are the IDs (identity documents) and then we do DNA tests.”

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