Johannesburg - Questions are being asked about why dozens of corpses found stranded on the M1 South highway were being transported in an open trailer.
Reports emerged on Wednesday that a trailer carrying 16 adult corpses and 26 stillborn babies was stuck on the highway after it became dislodged from a van after its wheels came off.
The van was believed to have been travelling from Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
City of Johannesburg member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for Public Safety Michael Sun explained that the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) Freeway Unit received a call of a broken down trailer on the M1 South between Smit and Carr on-ramp.
"On arrival, JMPD Freeway Unit discovered that the trailer’s wheel had dislodged, upon further investigation officers were shocked to discover 16 adult and 26 still born bodies in the trailer.
"The driver of the van alleged that he was transporting the bodies from Charlottes Maxheke General Hospital to Oilfantsvlei Cemetery in Eldorado Park for burial."
JMPD immediately contacted members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Provincial Department of Health to verify this information.
Sun added that the driver of the van was then requested to produce documentation proving he was from a registered mortuary and that he had authority from a hospital to move the bodies, which he was unable to.
He added that metro police subsequently requested the owner of the alleged undertaker to produce these documents.
Sun has since expressed his shock over the manner in which the bodies had been transported.
"The manner in which the bodies are transported is neither dignified nor hygienic at all, least to say shows no respect to the deceased and their families," Sun said.
M1 on both directions near Smit and Carr onramp will now be closed in order to remove the bodies. Traffic delay is expected. pic.twitter.com/blIJQHXj5c
Gauteng Department of Health has since spoken out on the matter, with spokesperson Lesemang Matuka saying the department regretted the incident.
"The Gauteng Department of Health regrets an incident that happened today at 09:45am on M1 south
"We are [however] pleased to inform the public that no injuries were reported and the bodies are still intact.
Matuka confirmed that 42 bodies were on board, of which 16 were adults and 24 were still births.
He added that the Gauteng Forensic Pathology Services was organising transport to take the bodies to the cemetery for burials.
"The department will launch an investigation to establish why the bodies were transported in an open trailer."
Both sides of the highway remain closed and the bodies, which have been there since morning, have not yet been removed.