Son buried by municipality without family’s knowledge

Family intends to exhume the body and sue the state

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Moses and Kehiloe Phike holding the guitar and artwork belonging to their son, Msindisi, who they believe has been buried by the state without their knowledge. Msindisi was a mechanical engineering student at Central University of Technology, and went missing during the Covid hard lockdown of April 2020. Photo: Becker Semela.

  • DNA tests were taken from a decomposed body believed to belong to a missing Bloemfontein man.
  • After three years, the test results have not been obtained.
  • In the meantime, the state mortuary passed the body on to the municipality for a pauper’s burial, without telling the family.
  • None of the state institutions involved have taken responsibility.

The parents of a 21-year-old Bloemfontein man who was buried by the state without their consent are demanding their son’s body be exhumed immediately.

Moses and Kehiloe Phike told GroundUp that their son, Msindisi, was reported missing at the Mangaung police station on 27 April 2020, during the hard lockdown. Their son’s decomposed body was found three weeks later at a storage warehouse on the edge of Bloemfontein.

Police opened a culpable homicide docket which was sent to a state prosecutor to review. Between 22 and 25 May 2020, the family were contacted by the police and told the body they found matched their son’s description.

Msindisi’s sister Bulelwa Phike, said their three cousins went to the state mortuary and could only identify the decomposed body by his clothes.

The family then requested a DNA test. “In August 2020, the investigating officer informed us that the DNA results got lost. Another one had to be taken, and my mother complied.”

Bulelwa said after not hearing anything about her brother’s case for a while, her father and fiancée went to the Bainsvlei Police Station in December 2021 to ask about the DNA results. “The officer in charge at the time called the SAPS lab in Pretoria to inquire. It was only then that we received the positive results via WhatsApp messenger.”

However, while trying to make plans for Msindisi’s funeral, the family discovered he had already been buried by the state. “While still waiting for the DNA results, my brother’s body was buried without our knowledge by the state mortuary in January 2021. There was no communication from the police,” said Bulelwa.

“We have been sent from pillar-to-post, asking how to have my brother exhumed,” said Bulelwa, adding that the police never updated them on whether the investigation was still ongoing.

Msindisi’s father Moses Phike said they want the state to pay for exhuming their son’s body so they can find out what really happened to him. “We still want to know what the cause of his death was. We need help to exhume our son so we can give him a proper dignified funeral and do our rituals,” he said.

In response to our questions, police spokesperson Thabo Covane confirmed the police had opened a case of culpable homicide. He said the matter was presented to the state prosecutor who determined there was insufficient evidence.

“The case is now being taken to Inquest Court where it will then be decided whether it will be further investigated or not.” Covane said the investigating officer had been informing Bulelwa’s fiancée Nduduzo Zwane, whom they believed was representing the family. But Zwane denied he had been informed. Covane did not respond to further questions about the case.

Provincial NPA spokesperson Phaladi Shuping said the inquest court would seek more information on how Msindisi had died in order to make a decision on further investigation.

Meanwhile, Msindisi’s mother, Kehiloe, said grieving for her son has been difficult because there are still so many unanswered questions about his death. She said they want to take legal action against the state for wrongfully burying their son.

She described Msindisi as a young man who loved drawing, painting, and composing music, particularly on the guitar and keyboard.

“We are always looking at his drawings and the songs he wrote, which are some of the memories he left to us. I am still heartbroken,” said Kehiloe.

Ratlou Funeral Parlor, appointed to bury Msindisi, said they only knew that they buried an unknown body.

Funeral parlor manager Khuduga Meje said they used to be appointed by the Mangaung Metro Municipality to bury unknown bodies.

“We only knew that we were burying an unknown body because the government mortuary orders the municipality whenever there is an unknown body to be buried.

“The municipality is the one that pays for paupers’ burials,” said Meje.

He said if they had known there were DNA results outstanding, they would not have buried the body.

Provincial Health Department spokesperson Mondli Mvambi said an unknown body was brought to the government mortuary by the police, with death being due to unnatural causes.

“The policy of the government mortuary is to keep the body for 30 days and if the body is not claimed during that period then a pauper’s burial is arranged through the municipality. The other bodies which the police still have work to do on are kept longer, in line with the requirements of the police,” Mvambi said.

He said the family may request the Mangaung municipality to exhume the body.

“Our department had no hand in any purported burial of the body without consent of the family.

“The claim that the body was buried by the government mortuary whilst the family was awaiting the results of the DNA are not accurate and should not be associated with the acts of the department,” said Mvambi.

TOPICS:  Human Rights

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