KLERKSDORP, South Africa – A 60-year-old woman’s family in Springbokpan, North West, is refusing to bury her after she was found badly decomposed in a government mortuary.
Semakaleng Mosikare was admitted to hospital with head injuries last month, her uncle and family spokesperson Joseph Mbaba told African News Agency (ANA) in a telephonic interview.
“She fell at home and was taken to Thusong Hospital. There she was transferred to Bophelong (Mahikeng Provincial Hospital) and later transferred to Klerksdorp where she underwent surgery. She recovered and was transferred back to Bophelong,“ he said.
“On October 25, she passed on at Bophelong. We went to the hospital on October 26 to transfer her body from a government mortuary to a private one, but we were told to come the following day (on October 27) after an autopsy was conducted,” he continued.
The following day, he said, they were greeted by a bad smell when a mortuary staff member led them to the fridges.
“He pulled out the body and quickly disappeared. The private mortuary staff asked to dress her before the family can view her. When they opened the body bag they found her wrapped in a plastic and was lying face down.
“They tore the plastic, the smell was unbearable and when they turned her around maggots were coming out of her eyes, nostril, mouth and ears. Her skin peeled,” he said.
Mbaba said they wanted an explanation from the hospital management and were told Mosikare was put in a fridge that was not working.
“The hospital wanted us to take the body for burial and will address the matter afterwards. I refused to take the body because I still have a case with the same hospital.”
He said his grandson died at the hospital in February after surgery.
“The hospital said we must bury him while they investigated what killed him. We are still waiting for that report,” he said.
Mbaba said they wanted an apology and compensation from the hospital.
The incident has drawn interest from political parties in the North West, with the ANC describing it as “shocking and disgusting”.
“This inhumane and abhorrent act is an antithesis of our African culture and traditions. Like other nations, Africans always display immense respect for the departed. The families of the deceased, too, expect to have the memory of their loved one respected.
“The ANC vehemently believe that this distasteful act warrants an appropriate comeuppance. We call on the Department of Health to ensure that perpetrators of this ghastly act face both disciplinary and criminal action,” said spokesperson Kenny Morolong.
The DA called for the suspension of the mortuary staff who failed to ensure that the body was stored correctly.
“This is in contravention with the regulations relating to the Management of Human Remains Act and is a violation of the deceased’s human dignity,” said health spokesperson Gavin Edwards.
“The spotlight is again placed on the poor quality of care provided in provincial medical facilities that is costing the department billions of rand each year in medical negligence claims,” he said.
Edwards said the family was outraged and traumatised by the state that the body was in.
North West Health MEC Madoda Sambatha has promised to get to the bottom of a case of negligence.
“The preliminary investigation revealed that the body got decomposed because it was placed inside a dysfunctional fridge drawer by the porter on the night of 25 October.
“The family lodged a formal complaint. The hospital accepted responsibility for the incident, and redress, which included counselling, was done. The family further requested a written apology from the hospital management before they could collect the body, which was done,” he said.
Sambatha said the implicated official has been placed on precautionary suspension.
He visited the family on Friday and assured them that the department would thoroughly investigate the incident.
“While one official, a porter who is directly involved, has been suspended, a through investigation will reveal everyone involved and the nature of their transgression,” he said.
“We sympathise with the family and society at large because all procedures of handling corpses in the mortuary were not followed, and even the fact that (the body) ended up being decomposed in a mortuary indicates how work ethic and care for the deceased is lacking from mortuary staff and management.
“An investigation will get to the bottom of this unfortunate incident and everyone involved will be held accountable,” Sambatha said.