There are 472 unclaimed bodies at mortuaries around the Cape
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Cape Town - Unidentified bodies often lay in mortuaries unclaimed for months, taking up space.
This is according to Western Cape Missing Persons Unit Candice van der Rheede.
She said she sees unidentified bodies lying in mortuaries all the time specifically in Tygerberg.
“People don’t know the procedure when identifying a body. You need your ID and the persons ID, also if the person is identifiable then DNA tests will be done, but there is also a backlog with that. Once a person is identified you can either sign for a state funeral or collect the body before a certain period of time. After this you are charged per day the body is in the mortuary,” said Van der Rheede.
She added that sometimes people do not identify the body because they can’t afford the funeral so they leave the body at the mortuary.
“I find that some people also get the dates wrong about when they last saw their loved one. This is also a contributing factor to bodies not being identified. Sometimes families don’t even know their loved one is missing because they are not in touch often. Please, if you haven't seen or heard from them check how they doing and where they are and keep recent pictures of them,” said Van der Rheede.
Spokesperson for provincial Forensic Pathology Services (FPS) Deanna February said the different levels of lockdown did have an impact on case admission to FPS facilities.
“Covid-19 death is deemed to be due to natural causes and does not require a medico-legal examination. Through working with the local municipalities we have ensured sufficient capacity exists to accommodate any unnatural high demand for burial or crematorium space. Private undertakers have also been included in these discussions. The next of kin can make contact with the FPS, who can search whether a relative by such description had been admitted to a FPS facility,” said February.
At the end August, FPS had 44 unidentified bodies 30 days after admission, 41 bodies 60 days after admission, and 372 90 days after admission, totalling 472 bodies at their facilities.
“The identification is the responsibility of the SAPS and specifically that of the investigating officer in the matter. The SAPS investigating the case is also tasked with tracing next of kin. Fingerprints will be taken that is first submitted to the local criminal record centre (LCRC) by the SAPS. If no match is found, it is sent to Home Affairs for confirmation. Where remains are unidentifiable, scientific identification is performed, for example, DNA is retained and sent for processing,” said February.
She said that If a body is never identified, all possible means are pursued, despite FPS being permitted by law to release remains after 30 days.
“Should remains remain unidentified, fingerprints are retained, facial photographs, any identifying features (scars, tattoos), a DNA sample is retained. The SAPS needs to issue an affidavit that it is unable to trace the next of kin, and that FPS may release the remains. We then undertake a pauper burial process via local government for the deceased to be buried as a pauper,” said February.
Pink Ladies South Africa Jacqui Thomas said: “It is fairly common that a missing person is at a mortuary. SAPS does check mortuaries and hospitals as part of their investigations, and we send flyers to them as well,” said Thomas.