Pauper burials for unclaimed bodies

Almost 200 unclaimed corpses lying in state mortuaries and hospitals across the Eastern Cape will soon be given paupers’ burials unless they are claimed.

The Eastern Cape health department said its facilities were filled to capacity with 199 unclaimed bodies.

Of these, 83 are in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, 69 in the Mthatha, 41 in Buffalo City Metro and six in Amathole.

The bodies have accumulated since the beginning of the year and are of people who died in hospital and those found dead in public spaces.

Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said by law the department was not allowed to keep corpses at its facilities for more than 90 days.

He said Mthatha government mortuary and Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth were holding 48 unclaimed bodies each.

He said the department had contacted local municipalities in all the areas with the request to start burial arrangements for some of the corpses.

It will cost government R557200 to bury all 199 bodies at a cost of R2800 a body.

“We urge communities who have lost relatives to visit our facilities and see if they cannot identify the deceased persons as one of their own,” Kupelo said.

He said part of the problem in tracing the families was that, before their deaths, many of the deceased supplied incorrect names and contact information.

“We are calling on members of the public to regularly visit their loved ones in hospital so that when they die they can know about it, collect them and give them a dignified send-off,” Kupelo said.

Provincial police said they were doing their part in tracing the families of the unknown deceased.

Police spokesman Lieutenant Khaya Tonjeni said some of the bodies discovered were badly decomposed and difficult to identify.

He said effort was made to identify bodies and inform families, but this was not always possible.

“When dealing with an unidentified person who is decomposed, damaged or injured, a facial construction is done in collaboration with one of the chosen universities in South Africa to make an identity kit,” Tonjeni said.

“If the body was discovered in advanced decomposition, fingerprints are obtained from the skin of the hands and is then scanned,” Tonjeni continued.

The fingerprints were compared to an police database in an effort to establish the person’s identity.

He said if these efforts failed, police would liaise with the Department of Home Affairs to compare the deceased’s fingerprints with information on the department’s database.

However, none of this was foolproof.—