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Metal plate attached to bones, crutches near body see brothers win case to get late kin’s bones

A metal plate attached to the bones and a pair of crutches found near the body sealed the deal for a judge to allow the family of a deceased to find closure. Picture: File

A metal plate attached to the bones and a pair of crutches found near the body sealed the deal for a judge to allow the family of a deceased to find closure. Picture: File

Published Jun 5, 2023


Pretoria - A metal plate attached to the bones of a man so decomposed that it cannot be identified and a pair of crutches found near the body sealed the deal for a Limpopo High Court judge to allow the family of the deceased to find closure.

The brothers of Motswiri Tema, who disappeared more than two years ago turned to court as they believed the remains found near a village in Limpopo were their brother’s.

But neither the police nor the health authorities would hand the remains over to the family, who dearly wanted to bury their beloved.

The issue was that two DNA tests on the body and his siblings were inconclusive. Thus, the authorities insisted they could not hand over the remains to the family.

But the Tema brothers were adamant that the metal plate on a leg bone and the crutches found next to the body proved it was their brother.

One of the brothers said that he was with the deceased at the hospital when he had injured his leg and had to have a metal plate inserted. Since then, he said, his brother had used crutches.

Mphse Tema told the court that he last saw their brother on April 20, 2021. They had agreed to meet a few days later, but his brother was never seen again.

A case of a missing person was reported to the police after he and others could not find his brother, in spite of a diligent search. A two-day search conducted by the K9 dog unit of the police, a helicopter and members of the community yielded no positive result.

About a month later, the police told him that they had found human remains next to Mamaolo Village. He was requested to come and view it and see if he was in a position to identify it as that of his missing brother.

He went to the spot but could not identify the face of the remains due to its advanced stage of decomposition.

The remains were meanwhile stored at the government mortuary.

The police arranged that the brothers should undergo DNA tests in order to determine if there was a relationship between them and the remains. Two tests were done, and both were inconclusive on whether the bones or teeth extracted from the remains could link the brothers.

In an explanatory note of the Ampath laboratory report, it was stated that, unlike paternity tests, there are no obligate alleles in kinship tests, and therefore, it would not always provide a conclusive result.

In lieu of the results, the SAPS and the health authorities refused to hand over the remains.

But the brothers were adamant that it was the remains of their brother.

This belief was based on the metal they saw on the leg of the remains, as well as a crutch, which was found next to it.

They argued that these were the unique features which identified the remains as those of Motswiri.

While the court said that the black and white pictures handed to it made it difficult to see the metal plate fixed to one of the bones, but the SAPS confirmed its presence, as well as that of the crutches.

The Limpopo Department of Health argued that the presence of the metal on the neck of the knee did not salvage the brothers’ case. According to it, metals fixated on patients in hospitals have a unique number written on hospital records, and this was used to assist in the determination and identification of the body.

It was stated that nothing was engraved in the “iron-met” found on the corpse. It was further argued that the iron met and the walking stick cannot be scientific factors acceptable to the Department of Health as identification of a corpse.

But the court said it was not the case of the brothers that the stick and the metal provide scientific proof of the identity of the corpse. They regarded this as visual identification, as envisaged in law.

“The applicants would not know why the hospital decided to use a metal which was not engraved with a unique number when they inserted it on the human remains, which was the subject matter of this case. I cannot imagine that the respondent is suggesting that the metal found on the bones of the remains was not fixated there in a hospital,” Judge MV Semenya said.

He declared that the remains were that of Motswiri and should be handed to the family for burial.

Pretoria News