Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla has warned that the recent fire in Johannesburg has increased the backlog in identifying the number of unclaimed bodies in state mortuaries.
Phaahla said there were more than 4,000 unclaimed bodies across the country. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have he highest incidence rates.
He said they were working with the South African Police Service Forensic Science Laboratory to improve the identification bodies that have not been claimed in mortuaries.
Phaahla, who was replying to questions in the national assembly on Thursday, said there were more 4,000 bodies in state mortuaries that have not been claimed by relatives or family members of the deceased.
He said in Gauteng there were more than 1,044 unclaimed bodies, KwaZulu-Natal had 1,509 unclaimed bodies, Limpopo had 353, Western Cape 350 bodies, and the Eastern Cape 315 unclaimed bodies.
In North West there were 251 unclaimed bodies, in Mpumalanga there were 68 bodies that have not been claimed by families and in the Northern Cape there were 42 unclaimed bodies.
Phaahla said they have been improving the system to identify the bodies.
“I know in Gauteng they were using the biometric system to try and improve the identification of unclaimed bodies. Of course, the recent fire exacerbated the situation in Gauteng, especially in Johannesburg. The health department is working with the South African Police Service Forensic Science Laboratory in relation to DNA testing to identify bodies,” said Phaahla.
He said the number of unclaimed was still very high and this number has to come down.
He said they were also using fingerprinting technology to identify unclaimed bodies.
They also work with the police and home affairs to compare biometric information.
“Where all this failed, there is no DNA match, there is no biometric; the person is not registered on the police system or home affairs system, we rely on the permission for what is generally called the pauper’s funeral. That is why we are engaging the department of cooperative governance so that municipalities can process these applications quicker,” said Phaahla.
The fire in Johannesburg has led to members of the mayoral committee in Johannesburg to start raiding hijacked buildings in the city centre.
The Premier of Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, has established an inquiry to probe the cause of the fire and syndicates behind hijacked buildings.
The inquiry will be chaired by former Constitutional Court Jude Sisi Khampepe.