African solutions needed to help identify South Africa's unknown dead

Forensics / The Search Process
Burial Site / Mass Grave / DNA Analysis / Identification / Management of the Dead

The number of unidentified individuals admitted to South Africa’s medico-legal laboratories may be as high as 10 000 per year. Professionals in the field put this number conservatively at around 7 000. Studies based on data from the country’s busiest medico-legal facilities in Cape Town and Johannesburg confirm that between 9% and 10% of bodies remain unknown after the prescribed period to confirm identity. 

To borrow a phrase from the US National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, this is “a silent mass disaster over time”. And, unless we start collaborating across disciplines and thinking creatively about how to do forensic post-mortem identification in our unique and complex context, these numbers are not going to improve. 

01 Jun 2023
South Africa,
Mail & Guardian