In a written reply to questions by the DA, health MEC Hope Papo revealed that 5 786 bodies had been unclaimed between January 2010 and October 2013.
Of the 5 786, some 5 352 of them were unidentified.
“The main reasons for either unclaimed or unidentified bodies include foreigners, decomposed, mutilated bodies, skeletal remains and indigent families identifying but not claiming the body because they cannot afford to bury it,” said DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom.
“The huge number of unclaimed and unidentified bodies is a vast human tragedy.”
The problem, however, does not seem to extend countrywide, according to National Department of Health spokesperson Joe Maila.
“It does happen from time to time, particularly in provinces bordering neighbouring countries,” he said, referring to foreigners living in South Africa.
“We just need to make sure we keep in touch with particular countries. But it’s not a big problem.”
The department said it worked in conjunction with municipalities and the Department of Home Affairs in this regard.
“We work with anybody who is affected to make sure that we get to them speedily.”
A comprehensive “mortuary management system” was being developed for Gauteng, according to provincial spokesperson Simon Zwane.
It would enable the department to record the number of unclaimed bodies in the province’s 70 mortuaries, he said. “This is a case management system and will assist us to resolve claims of unidentified bodies.”
It would be used mostly for people who died of unnatural causes, such as road accidents, and for those who “die on the streets” without an identification document or a fixed address.
The system will be fully functional by March next year.