In line with the overall trend nationally the statistics released by the police on 9 September show a decrease in the most serious crimes, murder and attempted murder, in KZN (although numbers of culpable homicide cases have actually increased, both nationally and in KZN, since 2003). That is most welcome, but levels of violence are still far too high in South Africa.
In general, not enough is being done by the police to prevent it happening.  Statistics should be available throughout the year, and  – given levels of mistrust – there should also be an independent verification process to ensure that no fiddling of the books is taking place.

Although the two worst stations in 2008/2009, Umlazi and KwaMashu, have shown a drop in murders, the numbers of people killed in both areas are much the same as for all the other years since 2003 (i.e. last year’s deaths were an all-time high for that period). It is also important to bear in mind that both of these policing areas serve very large populations. For comparative purposes, it would be helpful to see the figures expressed as a
rate of the population.

All stations that have brought down rates of serious crime – especially those showing a consistent improvement since 2003 – are to be commended.  However, questions must be asked why there has been no improvement in other areas shown to have extremely high crime rates in 2008/9. Plessislaer is a case in point, and despite problems with the functioning of this station having been drawn to the attention of management and the ICD during the past few years nothing seems to have been done to improve service delivery to those living in the area thestation serves.  Does the consistent
improvement in the Durban Central area since 2003 have anything to do that with the fact that it serves a tourist hub?  Why can there not be a similar improvement in a number of rural areas which serve largely poor and powerless people such as Nongoma, Msinga and Sundumbili?

In Sundumbili two people would not have been murdered had
proactive components of the police followed up on warnings that a family member was under threat of death. This incident at this particular station is by no means an exception. During the past few years, other stations, too, have been warned about threats to people, yet have failed to secure their safety.

Reports are also received of police at some stations failing to open cases until pressurised to do so, which is one of the reasons for cynicism about the reliability of statistics, especially for crimes such as robbery and assault. The present system, where the police release their statistics once a year is not acceptable. Firstly, there should be some sort of ongoing independent audit of police records (what exactly does the civilian component of policing nationally and in provinces do?) Secondly, there is no good reason whatsoever for the public having to wait a whole year to learn how
many people have died. In the 1990s, daily media releases by the police listed
the number of people killed over a twenty four hour period. Why can police
stations not provide details, every month, of people who have been killed in
their areas of jurisdiction during that time?  This is public information. There are clearly shortcomings in community police forums in many areas, including insofar as their composition, and failure to report backs to members of their constituencies is concerned.

Finally, police management continue to insult the
intelligence of members of the public by repeating, ad nauseam (as Comm de Kock did this year) that most murders involved people who knew each other.
They should explain how they know this – and, if the perpetrator is known, why the conviction rate for murder is so low (a figure of 12% in




         Show me the manner in which a nation or a community

        cares for its dead  and I will measure with mathematics

        exactness, the tender mercies of its people, their respect

        for the law of the land, and their loyalties to high ideals

      W E Gladstone, Prime Minister of England 1892-1894



The crucial importance of good forensic services to the criminal justice system cannot be overemphasised. Such services depend not only on the skills of pathologists who perform autopsies, but also on support staff whose tasks include the repair and safe care of corpses, and rendering assistance
to people facing the intensely painful task of identifying loved ones. There
has, however, been a failure to address serious and long-standing problems with mortuary services in KwaZulu-Natal and the present strike has seen the conduc of some staff at the Magwaza Maphalala (Gale) Street mortuary  degenerate to depraved criminality.

A few years ago the Department of Health took over the
running of mortuaries from the police, and it was anticipated that the quality
of service would improve. Quite the reverse has happened, and the situation has deteriorated even further. Apart from lack of resources and poor maintenance, most of the problems are linked to the conduct of staff, who not only fail to do what is required of them (e.g. maintain hygienic standards, ensure that specimens are properly stored, and treat cadavers with dignity) but also refuse to comply with the instructions of pathologists who work in the mortuary under extremely difficult conditions.  Staff reportedly come and go as they please and management appears non-existent. It also seems that international protocols for dealing with unidentified bodies are not being observed.

All these problems have been reported to the provincial Department of Health, but no constructive steps have been taken to address them, and to institute disciplinary procedures where necessary. They must shoulder the blame for employing people who are clearly unsuitable for this work in the first place, instead of people who had some training in the medical field. What is needed is technologists who understand the pivotal role of forensics, and are governed by a statutory body that imposes some sort of code of medical ethics on its members.

 Bad as the pre-strike situation was, the inhuman conduct of
some of the employees who are currently out on strike is criminal. According to well informed sources :

– Staff members have threatened anyone still
working at the morgue with death

  • Generators have been sabotaged and fridges
    switched off
  • Identification tags have been cut from bodies
    and corpses mixed up
  • Dissection tools used by pathologists are
  • Death registers are missing

Such conduct speaks volumes about the contempt with which
some striking workers hold the dead, whose mortal remains have been entrusted to their care. They obviously lack any sense of the empathy needed when interacting with bereaved persons.

Forensic medicine relates to the scientific collection of
evidence, the integrity of which will be relied on in criminal proceedings
which may follow. The intentional destruction of this process is a criminal act
which not only undermines the inquest process, but will have a secondary effect of fuelling the burden of crime in this province. The Department of Health must accept liability for employing and retaining corrupt staff should any family member feel prejudiced by their deliberate actions.

The mortuary staff must not be allowed to return to their
jobs when the strike is over. The KZN Monitor calls on the Department of Health to suspend these striking workers pending a full, independent enquiry into the staffing of the mortuary, and the criminal incidents by strikers. Criminal investigations must run their course, and no effort must be spared in identifying those responsible for these heinous acts. These employees must no longer be allowed to handle human remains so, if necessary, they should be transferred elsewhere by the Department which has foolishly employed them – and failed to take steps to prevent these abuses.