Health Minister Joe Phaahla has revealed that there were 1777 unclaimed bodies at state mortuaries in five of the country’s nine provinces.
Responding to parliamentary questions from Freedom Front MP Philip van Staden, Phaahla said records showed that KwaZulu-Natal had 1362 unclaimed bodies, followed by the North West with 174, Limpopo 136, Mpumalanga 54, and Northern Cape 51.
“Responses are still awaited from the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng and Western Cape provinces. The updated information will be submitted as soon as it is received from these provinces,” he said.
Phaahla also said there were ongoing discussions between the forensic pathology service, local municipalities and police regarding unclaimed bodies.
Phaahla was asked by IFP MP Duduzile Hlengwa whether his department had put any measures in place to ensure that state mortuary facilities were not burdened and overpopulated with unclaimed corpses.
Hlengwa said public hospitals and mortuaries had unclaimed bodies and added that corpses were now decomposing at a faster rate due to load shedding.
According to Phaahla, public hospitals and forensic pathology mortuaries had back-up generator capacity.
“This helps mitigate the potential of mortal remains decomposing,” he said.
“Even though all facilities in provinces have a back-up generator capacity, there are, however, increased expenditure costs due to diesel and maintenance of generators and this has an impact somewhat,” he said.
The minister said there were ongoing discussions with Eskom to exempt public hospitals and forensic pathology mortuaries from load shedding.
“Most of the decomposed bodies are received by forensic pathology mortuaries mostly due to these bodies being discovered in public spaces after a long time.”
Phaahla said measures were taken to trace families of the deceased at both public hospitals and forensic pathology mortuaries.
“It is the mandate of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to manage all unidentified cases from both the public hospitals and Forensic Pathology Service facilities.
“The SAPS has the competency of identification and tracing of families,” the minister added.
He indicated that his department collaborated with the SAPS and Department of Home Affairs for fingerprints, Department of Social Development for tracing of families and local municipalities for paupers’ burial where families were not successfully traced.
“Should the tracing not be successful, the deceased’s DNA is extracted and sent to the SAPS forensic science laboratory for storage in the database for future reference.
“It is only at this stage that the Department of Health makes an application to the Municipality for a Pauper burial.”
Phaahla also revealed that there were 136 state mortuaries across the country with 25 in KwaZulu-Natal, followed by 22 in the Eastern Cape and 20 in Mpumalanga.
There were four mortuaries - three in Limpopo and one in Northern Cape - that had over capacity.
Phaahla also indicated no crematoriums were operated by the state as the public hospitals did not cremate corpses on site.
“From the information received from provinces, persons that pass on in hospitals are transferred to private mortuaries or crematoriums by family members. Other human remains such as stillborn babies are disposed of as anatomical waste and the disposal thereof is handled as part of the health risk waste contracts outsourced to various private companies in all nine provinces.”