Thousands of unidentified bodies in Gauteng mortuaries

By Jack Bloom MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health:

More than 4000 bodies in Gauteng state mortuaries have not been identified in the last three years, and the number of unclaimed bodies has risen from 242 in 2012 to 403 last year.

These tragic figures are revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

According to Mahlangu, the main reasons for unclaimed and unidentified bodies are as follows:

  • Lack of authentic identification documentation;
  • Foreign nationals and South Africans from other provinces who travel without ID documents; and
  • Socio-economic reasons including resource constraints for burial and distance from family.

There has been some decline over the years in unidentified bodies, but an increase in unclaimed bodies.

Bodies are unclaimed usually because families cannot afford to bury them.

The figures given are as follows:

Number of unidentified and unclaimed bodies:

  • 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013 – 1603 unidentified and 242 unclaimed;
  • 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014 – 1254 unidentified and 334 unclaimed; and
  • 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015 – 1272 unidentified and 403 unclaimed

The Springs mortuary had the highest number of unclaimed bodies over this period (203) followed by Pretoria (181), Roodepoort (145) and Johannesburg (119).

The Gauteng Health Department has been struggling since 2006 to develop an internet system that will assist in people identifying bodies.

According to Mahlangu, the Gauteng Forensic Pathology “is currently developing a comprehensive mortuary management system targeting January 2016 for completion with first phase piloting for February 2016.”

I hope that an internet system is implemented soon so that bodies can be identified in this way, rather than relatives going to each mortuary, which is very traumatic and time-consuming.