One in 10 people who pass through Gauteng’s mortuaries is not identified. Their bodies languish for months in overcrowded and under-resourced forensic pathology service facilities, flesh slowly decomposing because a fridge can only slow the inevitable decay for so long.
If it wasn’t for the smell, no one would know there was a body there.
The savannah grass reaches above the waists of passers-by sweating under the Gauteng summer sun. If the body has been there for a while, the soft tissue of the face will have decomposed. There is often no identification on the body — no ID, no cellphone, no wallet — and the clothes have been shredded into faded, unrecognisable rags by the elements.
Forty unclaimed bodies are to be buried in Doornkop cemetery in Soweto on this particular Tuesday morning. An undertaker confers with an official as they cross names and numbers off a list. Two men lean against bright yellow earthmovers, waiting for their cue in this burial scene.