Unclaimed bodies rot in morgues

Lesotho Times
6 Min Read
LIMPHO Seeiso, Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital spokesperson


By Tsitsi Matope

MASERU — Seventy-six unclaimed corpses are rotting at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital, the Lesotho Funeral Services and Martins Funeral Parlour raising fears of health risks.

Maseru City Council (MCC) and the Maseru District Administrator (DA)’s office are at loggerheads over who should take the responsibility of burying the unclaimed corpses.

Some of the corpses have been in the morgues for more than two years and mortuary workers say these are now in a terrible state.

The ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital, popularly known as Tšepong, feeds the two privately owned funeral parlours with dead bodies.

Although it is the local government ministry’s responsibility through the MCC to bury abandoned corpses, the municipality this week shifted the responsibility of purchasing coffins to the DA’s office, insisting its mandate was only to provide burial space.

On the other hand, the DA’s office said it had nothing to do with the unclaimed bodies, insisting that it was the MCC’s  responsibility.

Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital spokesperson, Limpho Seeiso, said the institution is stuck with 14 unclaimed bodies.

She said the hospital had since sought advice  from the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs after one of the funeral homes refused to accept more corpses.

Unclaimed bodies rot in morques

“The hospital has 14 bodies of patients, some of whom died as far back as February this year. We are waiting for guidance on how to proceed . . .”

Seeiso said following the initial communication, the Ministry had asked the hospital to persevere until December 13, while efforts were being made to locate the deceased’s families through the media.

“So far, only one family has come to claim one body, leaving us with 14 bodies,” Seeiso said. The hospital, Seeiso added, does not have the capacity to keep bodies for more than two days.

“After the two days, we expect families to take the bodies to funeral parlours since we do not have the chemicals to preserve the corpses,” she said.

Seeiso, however, said the management at the funeral parlours, Lesotho Funeral Services and Martins Funeral Parlour, where the hospital usually takes bodies, had refused to accept any more unclaimed corpses.

“The management told us the parlours were also stuck with many bodies since the government was not burying them and not paying for services being rendered.”

According to Seeiso, the bodies comprise those of people who were brought in sick by neighbours and traffic accident victims.

“The challenge is that those who bring them here don’t provide enough details to enable us to make follow-ups and locate their families,” Seeiso said.

The Lesotho Funeral Services deputy managing director, Tefo Mapesela, on his part, said the home’s mortuary was stuck with 62 bodies — some of which had been brought as far back as 2011.

“The government owes us M138 000. From the communications we have had with both the Maseru City Council and DA’s office, it is obvious there is a problem as to who is supposed to take responsibility to pay for the burial and services rendered so far,” Mapesela said.

Mapesela further said continued preservation of many of the bodies was becoming difficult because of the lengthy periods they had stayed in the mortuary.

“We are worried because it is becoming more expensive for us to keep the bodies in an acceptable condition.”

The bulk of the unclaimed bodies, he added, were brought by the police and relatives or friends who never returned to claim them for burial.

However, the Maseru City Council spokesperson, Lintle Moerane said the municipality was ready to only provide land for burial after all the other proceedings have been followed.

“We are ready to provide burial sites if need arises. The Maseru District Administrator’s office has always been responsible for buying the coffins,” Moerane said.

But the District Administrator, Retired Major General Samuel Makoro, insisted his office had no role to play in the burial of unclaimed bodies.

“That is the responsibility of the council. The council cannot provide burial sites and then turn around and say they can’t buy coffins for bodies they are going to bury,” he said, adding the Local Government Act stipulates that burying of destitute persons and unclaimed bodies is the responsibility of the council.

“Burying also includes taking the expected responsibilities associated with burial,” he said.

He said that previously, when local government functions were under the Ministry of Home Affairs, things were done differently.

“However, since the establishment of the Ministry of Local Government, responsibilities were reviewed and that included the burial of unclaimed bodies, which became the responsibility of the Maseru City Council,” Makoro said.

Moerane, on the other hand, said the problem could be related to different interpretations of what the law says.

“We will need to consult our lawyer for clarification of what the law says because our understanding is that buying coffins is not our responsibility and not provided for in our budget,” she said.


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