Mortuary mayhem

2010-09-02 00:00

GENERATORS at the Magwaza Maphalala (Gale) Street mortuary in Durban have been sabotaged, fridges have been switched off, identification tags cut from bodies and the corpses mixed up, allegedly by striking workers.

Dissection tools and death registers are also missing, causing KwaZulu-Natal public violence monitor Mary de Haas to say the conduct of strikers has degenerated into “depraved criminality”.

She called on the Health Department to suspend striking workers pending a full, independent inquiry into the staffing of the mortuary.

“Such conduct speaks volumes about the contempt with which some striking workers hold the dead, whose mortal remains have been entrusted to their care.”

De Haas said good forensic services to the criminal justice system cannot be over-emphasised, and that the strike has jeopardised these services at the mortuary.

“We’ve been informed that staff members have threatened anyone still working at the morgue with death.”

She said such services depend not only on the skills of pathologists who perform autopsies, but also on support staff whose tasks include the repair and safe care of the corpses and rendering assistance to people facing the intensely painful task of identifying loved ones.

“Since the strike the staff has failed to maintain hygienic standards, store specimens properly and treat cadavers with dignity. International protocol for dealing with unidentified bodies are not being observed,” said De Haas, adding that such conduct is inhuman and criminal.

Forensic medicine relates to the scientific collection of evidence, the integrity of which will be relied on in criminal proceedings which may follow.

“The intentional destruction of this process is a criminal act, which not only undermines the inquest process, but will have a secondary effect of fuelling the burden of crime in this province.”

On Monday The Witness reported that the Alexandra Road police station mortuary was deserted, with only one employee on duty, who also left later.

Health Department spokesperson Chris Maxon said any criminal act or omission which interferes with criminal investigations during the strike is being investigated and proper action will be taken.

“This goes for all the government mortuaries and we call on anyone who was mistreated or has information on the acts of sabotage in the government mortuary to come forward,” he said.

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