Corruption all the way to the grave…

Even the dead in South Africa cannot escape the culture of corruption in the country. Bodies are piling up so badly at 136 State mortuaries that some relatives have to pay bribes to have post mortems done so that they can give their loved ones a dignified burial before they decompose. This has emerged from an interview with the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister for Health Michele Odette Clarke who tells BizNews: “So there are bodies piling up in each and every mortuary. For instance, in the Hillbrow Mortuary, you’ve got over 100 bodies that they still have to do post-mortems on”. She says by the time people receive the remains of their loved ones for funerals, “the bodies have been totally decomposed and are very often not even recognised”. She calls for legislation to regulate mortuaries and for the appointment of an Ombudsman.Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:39 – Michele Odette Clarke on what is happening at the 136 mortuaries that are under state control
  • 04:02 – On the reports that some family members have to bribe officials to see their loved ones
  • 05:42 – On reports of unqualified people working on bodies and leaving them unrecognisable
  • 07:09 – On body parts apparently being sold for the purposes of muti
  • 09:09 – The effect this all has on the justice system
  • 10:47 – On the need for the mortuaries to transfer responsibilities to an independent state funded forensic services body and how this can be done
  • 11:32 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

Even the dead in South Africa cannot escape the culture of corruption in the country.

Bodies are piling up so badly at 136 State mortuaries that some relatives have to pay bribes to have post mortems done so that they can give their loved ones a dignified burial before they decompose.

This has emerged from an interview with the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister for Health Michele Odette Clarke who tells BizNews that the situation is “really dismal” and needs urgent attention. 

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“So there are bodies piling up in each and every mortuary. For instance, in the Hillbrow Mortuary, you’ve got over 100 bodies that they still have to do post-mortems on.

“Now what should be happening is, you know, bodies should not be in a mortuary longer than 10 days, you know, and then they need to be released for burial. And this is not happening. I mean, by the time people receive their loved ones… to do their funerals, the bodies have been totally decomposed and are very often not even recognised. 

“And that kind of inhumane behaviour towards someone that has lost someone that is a loved one to themselves is extremely traumatic. And you know, a government needs to take cognisance of that. You cannot allow this to happen. It’s a very emotional aspect that people must deal with…”

Clarke describes how this leaves the door open to corruption: “…and in many instances there’s been reported that there are being bribes solicited…if your family’s body has been there for a time period, if you pay a bribe, they would see to your family’s bodies first…So that also is a massive problem.”

Read more: No Ubuntu for the dead…Mayhem in SA’s state mortuaries

Commenting on complaints that some family members have had to bribe mortuary officials just to view the bodies of their loved ones, Clarke says: “Yes, we’ve also had reports regarding that. And what I am doing is submitting parliamentary questions through the parliamentary process to find out if any officials have been reprimanded or if they have any proof of these bribes and if any consequence management has been put in place to deal with this issue, and what were the outcomes of the investigations and whether any of these officials have been suspended for bribery and corruption and if there’s ongoing investigations around these cases.”

As for cases of unqualified people working on bodies and allegedly leaving them unrecognisable, Clarke says: “Correct. There’s also been many reports around that.”

She points out that there is a “severe” shortage of pathologists in State-run mortuaries.

On top of that, she says, State pathologists are also moonlighting in the private sector.  “So that also causes a huge problem because they’re not really focusing solely on what needs to be done within our State mortuaries.”

Meanwhile, the power outages have also had a “huge” effect on mortuaries. “…often some of our mortuaries do not have generators. And I think that is something that we need to seriously be looking at to exempt mortuaries from being load-shedded because that causes a massive problem as well.”

Clarke points to lack of maintenance of mortuary fridges as another contributing factor to the crisis. “…I’ve also been to various hospitals for oversight, and the mortuaries within the hospitals are also a problem. There’s a terrible stench around it, and because fridges don’t work properly, etc. And it’s terrible.”

She notes that there is currently no legislation that actually regulates mortuaries. “…I think there’s really a need for legislation to be amended and a PMB (Private Members Bill) brought to Parliament in order to look at how we’re going to regulate mortuaries….

“And secondly, there’s a big need to establish an Ombudsman…And once you’ve got an Ombudsman in place, they do investigations, and they will give recommendations in terms of their findings, and that gives you a very good guideline to actually go to mortuaries on the ground to see that these recommendations are being implemented.”

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