The rising crime rate in the Western Cape has left mortuaries in the province struggling to efficiently process bodies and return them to families and friends. It was recently reported that a shocking 495 bodies were still left unidentified and consequently unclaimed in and around the province. The Western Cape Health Department’s assistant communications director has attributed this backlog to the recent spate of violent crimes as well as several other unnatural causes of death.
“There’s a range of reasons for it and the recent spate of violent crimes within the metropole has contributed to a number of unnatural causes of deaths needing to be admitted to our facilities, needing autopsies and needing to follow the whole forensic pathology and medical-legal processes before they can be released… and that’s besides cases like motor vehicle accidents, deaths at home or unexpected deaths.
All the unnatural causes, not just crime related, come to our facilities and by law have to be put through the process for an autopsy,” explained the Western Cape Health Department’s assistant communications director, Mark van der Heever.
“However, more and more over the past few months there’s been an increase in the number of unnatural deaths – specifically violent crime-related deaths that have escalated and added a spike into our case admissions at all our facilities in the metropole.”
Van der Heever explained that the investigations by SAPS often determine the speed at which bodies can be processed through the mortuary system. When police investigations stagnate – particularly in violent crime-related cases – a strain is put on the mortuary system due to the volume of cases.
Van der Heever indicated that in an effort to reduce the strain on mortuaries in the province, whenever someone has gone missing for more than 24 hours, family, friends and loved ones should contact the nearest police station and forensic pathology centre for assistance. This will greatly assist in reducing the backlog at mortuaries, should the missing person have passed away unbeknownst to their loved ones.
However, despite what seems to be a worryingly high number of unidentified bodies in the mortuary system, van der Heever added that facilities generally do remain full.