This Monday Oct. 1, 2018 photo shows the skull of an unidentified adult male found in 2017, brought to a Johannesburg mortuary for identification purposes. Once a demographic profile is estimated, it will go to the victim identification center in the South African police department to create a facial reconstruction. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Monday Oct. 1, 2018 photo shows the skull of an unidentified adult male found in 2017, brought to a Johannesburg mortuary for identification purposes. Once a demographic profile is estimated, it will go to the victim identification center in the South African police department to create a facial reconstruction. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 photo, Zimbabwean migrant Banele Nkomo holds a photograph of her missing brother, Francis. She doesn't know what happened to him and hasn't heard from him for years. She says she misses him every day and wants to know whether he passed away and where his body is in order to find closure. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 photo, Zimbabwean migrant Banele Nkomo holds a photograph of her missing brother, Francis. She doesn't know what happened to him and hasn't heard from him for years. She says she misses him every day and wants to know whether he passed away and where his body is in order to find closure. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Friday, April 6, 2018 aerial photo shows Johannesburg's downtown. Millions of migrants jostle for work in the thriving underground economy of Gauteng province, whose name roughly translates to "land of gold." Thousands of them die without identities or simply disappear during the journey. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Friday, April 6, 2018 aerial photo shows Johannesburg's downtown. Millions of migrants jostle for work in the thriving underground economy of Gauteng province, whose name roughly translates to "land of gold." Thousands of them die without identities or simply disappear during the journey. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
Zimbabwean migrant Kholakele carries her 6-month old baby in her apartment in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Kholakele and her husband, Arnold, left, who entered the country illegally three years ago to find work, have heard stories about missing migrants through friends and relatives. They fear for their five children. "If one of them stays away for longer than 10 minutes, we phone them," says Kholakele. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
Zimbabwean migrant Kholakele carries her 6-month old baby in her apartment in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Kholakele and her husband, Arnold, left, who entered the country illegally three years ago to find work, have heard stories about missing migrants through friends and relatives. They fear for their five children. "If one of them stays away for longer than 10 minutes, we phone them," says Kholakele. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 photo, a man killed in a mob justice incident in Johannesbrug is carried away to be transported to a mortuary. Of the 3,000 bodies that come into the Johannesburg mortuary each year, approximately ten percent remain unidentified. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 photo, a man killed in a mob justice incident in Johannesbrug is carried away to be transported to a mortuary. Of the 3,000 bodies that come into the Johannesburg mortuary each year, approximately ten percent remain unidentified. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Monday, April 16, 2018 photo, the hand of an unidentified man is seen at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg during forensic examination. When undocumented migrants die and nobody claims their body, there's no collection of them in any national or international tally. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Monday, April 16, 2018 photo, the hand of an unidentified man is seen at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg during forensic examination. When undocumented migrants die and nobody claims their body, there's no collection of them in any national or international tally. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 photo shows the body of an unidentified man at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. It's South Africa's busiest morgue, with 3,000 bodies being investigated every year. Ten per cent of those remain unclaimed and unidentified. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 photo shows the body of an unidentified man at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. It's South Africa's busiest morgue, with 3,000 bodies being investigated every year. Ten per cent of those remain unclaimed and unidentified. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 photo, an unidentified man lies in a body bag after forensic examination at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 photo, an unidentified man lies in a body bag after forensic examination at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
GRAPHIC CONTENTS - In this Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 photo, a forensic worker moves a body at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. It's South Africa's busiest morgue, with 3,000 bodies being investigated every year. Ten per cent of those remain unclaimed and unidentified. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
GRAPHIC CONTENTS - In this Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 photo, a forensic worker moves a body at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. It's South Africa's busiest morgue, with 3,000 bodies being investigated every year. Ten per cent of those remain unclaimed and unidentified. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Wednesday, April 18, 2018 photo, a pathologist takes fingerprints of an unidentified male for forensic examination at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. Fingerprints are sent to a database of the South Africa police department in order to find a match. If no match is available, the bodies get buried in "pauper graves." (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Wednesday, April 18, 2018 photo, a pathologist takes fingerprints of an unidentified male for forensic examination at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. Fingerprints are sent to a database of the South Africa police department in order to find a match. If no match is available, the bodies get buried in "pauper graves." (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 photo, a forensic worker transports a body at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. When undocumented migrants die and nobody claims their body, there’s no collection of them in any national or international tally. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 photo, a forensic worker transports a body at a mortuary in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg. When undocumented migrants die and nobody claims their body, there’s no collection of them in any national or international tally. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 photo, shows the road leading to the Olifantsvlei cemetery outside Johannesburg. At the graveyard unidentified bodies are buried in "pauper graves." (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 photo, shows the road leading to the Olifantsvlei cemetery outside Johannesburg. At the graveyard unidentified bodies are buried in "pauper graves." (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Thursday, April 12, 2018, photo mortuary workers bury the coffin of an unidentified male in a "pauper grave" at a Olifantsvlei cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five are placed on top of each other in each grave. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Thursday, April 12, 2018, photo mortuary workers bury the coffin of an unidentified male in a "pauper grave" at a Olifantsvlei cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five are placed on top of each other in each grave. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 photo, shows the marker for a "pauper grave" at the Olifantsvlei cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five bodies of unidentified people are buried in each grave. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
This Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 photo, shows the marker for a "pauper grave" at the Olifantsvlei cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five bodies of unidentified people are buried in each grave. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

JOHANNESBURG — Ever since Francis Nkomo went missing 10 years ago, his older sister Banele has been waiting for a sign of life.

 "I miss him," says Banele while holding his picture, all she has left of her brother. "I miss him a lot."

Francis, a Zimbabwean migrant living in Johannesburg, was 29 when he disappeared, one of thousands who have gone missing in South Africa.

Millions of migrants slip in through the country's porous borders without documentation and fall between the cracks in the system. 

They live a life of anonymity. And when they die, they remain unidentified: 4,311 in the Gauteng province between 2014 and 2017.

Zimbabwean migrant Kholakele, who lives with her husband Arnold and their five children in a crammed building in downtown Johannesburg, has heard the stories of people gone missing. 

The family entered the country illegally three years ago to find work.

Afraid that one day they will end up as anonymous bodies in the streets of Johannesburg, where crime rates and traffic accidents are steep, they barely let their children out of sight. 

"If one of them stays away for longer than 10 minutes, we phone them," says Kholakele.

When undocumented migrants die and nobody claims their body, there's no collection of them in any national or international tally.

A lot of the dead bodies end up in a mortuary in Hillbrow, one of the city's most dangerous and notorious neighbourhoods, for pathological research. 

It's South Africa's busiest morgue, with 3 000 bodies being investigated every year. Ten percent of those remain unclaimed and unidentified.

The fingerprints and DNA collected of the unidentified are used to create a more detailed database that police can use for future identification, or relatives can search to find a loved one.

After pathological research, they are brought to their final resting place, the Olifantsvlei cemetery, a large plot of farmland outside Johannesburg. 

Men in white overalls lower the chipboard coffins one by one, in stacks of five, into nine-feet-deep holes in a field of high grass and dried red earth. 

When the men leave, all that is left are tiny placards with 'Paupers Block' written on them.

Maybe Francis Nkomo lies in one of those graves. His sister is hoping for an answer.

"I'm just praying to see him back," Banele says. "Or if someone can tell me that he died, we can all have peace."

AP