Unidentified bodies pile up at hospitals

Tygerberg Hospital
Unidentified bodies are piling up at hospitals across the city with 200 at the Tygerberg mortuary, many of them, the victims of violent crime.

This is according to the latest count done between April and June, says provincial Health Department spokesman Mark van der Heever.

The mortuary is at the Tygerberg Hospital, but falls under the provincial Forensics Pathology Services (FPS).
Mr Van der Heever said there were between 420 and 450 unidentified bodies at provincial mortuary facilities.
The FPS has three refrigerated shipping containers to store the unidentified bodies – two at Tygerberg Hospital and one at Salt River Mortuary.
“Although the bodies are kept at FPS facilities, the scientific processes to establish identity through DNA and fingerprint comparison is the responsibility of SAPS,” Mr Van der Heever said.
“FPS are only facilitating the process, but the responsibility for the identification process remains that of the police. Therefore remains are kept for long periods until all possible steps have been taken to try and establish identity or at least some identifiable features are established, to put on a database.”
Bodies that remain unidentified get a pauper’s funeral.
“The metro has had to conduct 250 such burials between last year until now. The bodies are buried under a City of Cape Town contract and thus at a grave site, of their choosing, where there is available space,” Mr Van der Heever said.

Although, by law, health authorities can keep unidentified bodies for only 30 days, they are kept for longer at Salt River and Tygerberg, until the police can identify them.

Tygerberg’s emergency room saw 919 cases in June and 829 the month before, according to Mr Van der Heever. 

Many of the trauma cases were gunshot wounds, stabbings and assaults, while others were unrelated to crime, he said.
Forensic pathology regional manager Kevin Jones told the Cape Times last month that an upsurge in violent deaths, particularly from gunshot wounds, had swamped city morgues.

“It’s like a whole magazine is emptied on one person; it’s something we never saw before. The problems we are experiencing is a manifestation of what is happening in society.

Dealing with cases of multiple gunshot wounds slows our postmortem process and is causing delays,” Mr Jones said.

FPS were struggling to get DNA feedback from the Forensic Science Laboratory in Plattekloof, he said.

“As such, this also contributes to cases not being concluded and bodies kept at our facilities.” 
According to Goodwood Community Police Forum chairman John Ross and Parow CPF chairman Roger Cannon, Cape Flats gang leaders have been seen in the neighbourhoods since the flare-up in gang violence and the deployment of the army to the Cape Flats. 

“The criminal activities are still happening on the Cape Flats. However drug lords are seeking safe haven in Parow”, Mr Cannon said.

*Additional reporting by the Cape Times