Dead to rights at Pinetown Mortuary

The Pinetown Mortuary building on Suffert Road in Pinetown.

FIFTY unclaimed bodies remain at the Pinetown Mortuary since January due to various contributing factors such as failure to complete post mortems, staff absenteeism, wage disputes and lack of finances.

DA KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson on health, Dr Imraan Keeka, brought this issue to light when he released a statement in which he said the bodies had not been claimed by relatives, and are now in an advanced state of decomposition in the freezers.

“Pinetown Mortuary has allowed the bodies to decompose and remain in the fridges for more than six months.

This is the highest level of indignity that can be accorded to the dead even if they are unclaimed and it is indeed a shame,” said Keeka.

He added that the executive authority of the department of health, the MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, had spent days at that mortuary in March performing post mortems yet ignored the backlog.

“It seems ignoring the human rights of the living, as confirmed by the SA Human Rights Council, is not all he [MEC] is responsible for,” said Keeka,

The DA called for an urgent oversight visit by the province’s health portfolio committee to the Pinetown Mortuary and also submitted a written parliamentary question to MEC Dhlomo about the circumstances at this mortuary and has called for answers around the delays in burials, which the party believes could also be as a result of the department’s current financial status.

“My source at the mortuary confirmed at the end of last week that the postmortems would have been completed by Saturday, 24 June. But I do not think the state has any urgency to complete them,” said Keeka.

Contributing factors

According to Keeka, the backlogs could have various reasons. He said there was a go slow in May and the DA was also informed that ?the frequency of absenteeism of staff including the resident forensic pathologist had contributed to the backlogs.

“SAPS has also contributed to the delays in that they have not always been available to legally oversee the sampling of DNA for record purposes which is shocking and we will expect answers for their non-commitment to the processes of the Health Department.

“The DA also believes that the department’s financial woes could have contributed in that there would not have been enough money for pauper burials of unclaimed bodies towards the latter part of the last financial year. The department’s finances were and are in serious crisis to the point that at the end of March this year, there was a scramble to pay the wages of the more than 75,000 staff,” said Keeka.

Also read: BREAKING NEWS: Decomposed body found hanging from tree in Pinetown

Post mortems
Keeka said the Fort Napier mortuary has ?30 such bodies awaiting burial. But he claims the difference is
that the post mortems are done and its’ only a matter of ensuring that the
burials are done.

Contradictory reports by two staff members – one saying everything is normal at the mortuary and another that there is a backlog – confirms that what is going on behind the morgue doors remains a mystery.

Lack of cooperation

Highway Mail staff visited the Pinetown Mortuary requesting an interview with the manager, Nozipho Ndebele, however were asked to wait more than 30 minutes before sending a staff member to inform journalists that she could not comment and instead asked the reporters to contact the head office. The Highway Mail reporters were given a tollfree number to contact a Mr Mkhwanazi however he was not available to comment. He did not respond to messages left for him.

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Deshni Ramkissoon-Pillay

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