Unidentified bodies pile up in toilet morgues amid scarce resources

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Through BULELWA PAYI August 18, 2019

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Cape Town – As provincial mortuaries buckle under a heavy load of unidentified bodies, questions have been raised about burial rites and the dignity in which the bodies are laid out.

Unidentified bodies in the province are believed to be between 420 and 450, according to the health ministry “at some point.”

Provincial health spokesperson Mark van der Heever said that between April and June, Tygerberg’s forensic lab had around 200 unidentified bodies.

The growing number of deaths has forced the department to make alternative arrangements and store the unclaimed bodies in shipping containers.

But the question also raised the question of how many of these bodies were children and if these children were stateless.

Lawyer Joy van der Heyde, who focuses on family law, said it was also important to know how many families in the province did not know what had happened to their loved ones, as institutions under- funded prevent the identification of unclaimed people and, therefore, their bodies.

She said it was crucial to know how many were buried by the state in an “unnamed” burial site.

“How do we know that religious rites were observed during this process? It raises many questions relating to the rights to dignity, culture and religion as well as to liberty and security of the person.

She said that in the case of the deaths of stateless children, the likelihood of being identified was slim.

“Many of them may not have registered their births with Home Affairs, as the obligation to register the child’s birth with biometrics would have been left to the immigrant parent, who was most likely illegally in the country, ”she added.

According to Van der Heever, the regulations governing forensic pathology services stipulated that a burial of the poor took place 30 days after the receipt of a body and that no identification could be made after all steps had been taken to establish identification.

“The remains are kept for long periods of time until all possible steps have been taken to try to establish identity or at least some identifiable characteristics are established, to be put in a database.”

In 2018/19, 250 people were buried for a poor person on a grave where there was space available. The graves of the poor generally contain more than one body.

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