Bongani Ndlovu, Chronicle Reporter
A TOTAL of 178 paupers’ burials were done in Bulawayo during the last quarter of 2021, amid revelations that most unclaimed corpses in the city’s morgues are babies.
A paupers’ burial is a grave paid for at public expense because the deceased person’s family could not afford one or the body lies unclaimed at a hospital mortuary for three months.
Mortuaries at Mpilo Central Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) have many unknown bodies of adults.
Some of the deceased are victims of hit-and-run accidents, while others would have died during surgery.
Unclaimed bodies and stillbirths also contribute to the number of paupers’ burials.
Stillbirths mean any death of an unborn child, or a child at birth.
UBH director of operations Mr Richard Sithole said out of 90 paupers’ burials that they conducted in the last quarter of last year, 85 were of babies.
“We have about 20 bodies that have overstayed at the mortuary. Most of the bodies there will be babies. Out of 90 burials, only five are adults and the other will be babies. Someone will have a miscarriage or the baby does not make it. Some mothers say that they can’t afford to bury the baby.
“We are not allowed to incinerate those stillbirths that are above four months. We have to bury them, but the parents do not want to bury them because of the cost and dump them at the mortuary. Some give false addresses so that they cannot be traced,” said Mr Sithole.
He said the capacity of the UBH mortuary is 27 adult bodies, but they take up to 60 bodies.
Paupers’ burials are done after three months of a body remaining unclaimed in the morgue.
“The first stage is for us to try and find the next of kin of the person. If we fail after 21 days, then the matter is escalated to the police, who also check using their systems. If that fails, then the Department of Social Welfare will then make arrangements, by finding an undertaker who will then finish off the process. The Department of Social Welfare will buy the coffins and then the undertaker will find burial space,” said Mr Sithole.
He said they currently have 20 bodies that have overstayed in the morgue.
Mpilo Central Hospital director of operations Mr Joel Charangwa said they usually do paupers’ burials after six months of a body staying in the mortuary.
He said 88 unclaimed bodies had a paupers’ burial, as most had died without identity particulars.
“Moving around without identity particulars is very dangerous. Normally we advise people that they should have particulars on them. Also, relatives should know the whereabouts of their loved ones. Even if they are mentally disturbed, they should make an effort to check. Most of the bodies are those of destitute people, who would have been found dead,” said Mr Charangwa.
He said the process to hold paupers’ burials takes long because they want to give a chance to relatives to find their loved ones like what happened last week.
“There was a body that had been at the mortuary unclaimed for two months. The relatives came to the mortuary and identified the body and today they collected the body for burial. The person was an unknown person, picked up by the police and brought to the mortuary,” said Mr Charangwa.
He said they are currently processing 18 unclaimed bodies for a paupers’ burial that died as far back as May last year.
Some of the bodies were found at Ngozi Mine and the Khami area, while some died from Covid-19.
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