KWAZULU-NATAL MEC for health Sibongiseni Dhlomo yesterday announced that an interdepartmental task team had been formed to address the backlog in several government mortuaries.
Government mortuaries in the province are overcrowded, with unclaimed bodies piling up.
Dhlomo said the team had been given a week in which to address the problem.
The task team comprises officials from both the department of health and South African Police Service detectives unit.
First on the list for the task team is Durban's Gale Street mortuary, where about 185 corpses are being kept - many unclaimed and unidentified.
The mortuary can only handle 160 bodies. New corpses are being sent to other mortuaries in the city.
Dhlomo said the team would also probe complaints about poor service due to staff shortages and bad smells at some mortuaries, including Gale Street, Pinetown, Phoenix and Pietermaritzburg in particular.
"We are committed to addressing the problems within a week. We know that people complain about decomposing bodies but the nature of forensic work involves receiving bodies in an unpleasant state and others already in the process of decomposition," Dhlomo said.
"We must also indicate that we are still in the summer season, with high temperature that last longer in these parts."
He said the major cause of the overcrowding was the public's inability to inform the police early if their next of kin has disappeared or is presumed dead.
"This means that we must keep bodies until the whole identification process has been exhausted," he said.
Yesterday Dhlomo met workers at the Gale Street mortuary. He urged them to support the plan to bring operations back to normal and ensure that people coming to identify their relatives receive the best service befitting their bereavement.
A psychologist has also been seconded to the mortuary to provide support and counselling.
A senior member of the task team and chief forensic pathologist Steven Naidoo is confident that the problems will be resolved soon.
"At least we now approach this challenge as a team. We have agreed on protocol to be followed so that we can ensure that legal requirements for the identification processes using techniques such as finger prints, X-ray, dental records and DNA are met.
"In the coming week we will be operating from the Phoenix mortuary, where we will do most post-mortems to clear the mortuary (Gale Street) and also ensure that all new cases are dealt with," he said.