Unclaimed corpses pile up in Gauteng despite thorough identification process

Head of forensic pathology at Wits University Professor Jeanine Vellema says there remains a high number of unclaimed corpses admitted to its facilities despite a thorough identification process.

Vellema who is in charge of eight facilities in the southern cluster of Gauteng, says the Johannesburg facility has at least 350 people per year who will never be identified. These are individuals who have died of unnatural deaths.

Vellema says the bodies are often of migrants. She says a wealth of information is kept about the individuals in case family members approach the facilities in search of their loved ones.

With my young scientists, we collect a lot of data and information about every single unidentified person. The clothing they were wearing, jewellery, which we keep in any case and we keep photographs.

Professor Jeanine Vellema, Head - orensic Pathology

We try and match what they have in their minds as their lived ones with the features - when did we find the body, when did the body arrive, when did they lose contact with their loved ones - and then we can try and match up what they have with what we have in our records.

Professor Jeanine Vellema, Head - orensic Pathology

Beyond our borders we have the ICRC who will take that out into international communities to try and match the information we have with who they might have in their area or community who might have gone missing.

Professor Jeanine Vellema, Head - orensic Pathology

We feel and I suspect we are the province where we probably have the highest numbers and percentages of identified people...

Professor Jeanine Vellema, Head - orensic Pathology

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