Corpse swap

Francinah Baaitse Mmana


In a mix-up of epic proportions, a family buried the wrong body after mistakenly identifying another woman’s corpse as their grandmother.

On Sunday 31 May, thinking they were laying Mmadipeba Batileng, 83, to rest, Batileng’s family instead lowered 93-year-old Kilano Phetolo into the ground.

Four days later, after realising the terrible mistake, Kilano’s body was exhumed.

Both women were buried by their respective families later the same day.

The corpse swap took place at Maun’s Iphitlhe Mortuary, where the bodies were awaiting burial.

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“The swapping of the corpses was due to a genuine mistake, free of malice, fraud or negligence,” explained Phetsolo Nare, the lawyer who helped the mortuary and the two families attain a court order to exhume the body.

According to papers filed before Justice Lot Moroka of Maun High Court, the trouble started on Saturday 30 May when the Batileng family mistook Kilano’s body for their mother’s.

They then buried her at their home village of Tsau the next day.

In the urgent court application, one of Mmadipeba’s daughters admits she had always suspected the corpse they collected from the mortuary was not her mother’s.

“Before we could take her, we were invited to identify her. I had my doubts that it was my mother as she looked different. But because the other two relatives, who are older than me, were very sure that it was her, I ended up keeping the doubt to myself. I convinced myself that the mortuary conditions might have somehow changed her.”

The 50-year-old goes on to state that she later voiced her suspicions to her husband but he did not take any action either.

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It seems her younger sister also harboured doubts, which were ultimately ignored.

“On the morning of burial, I discovered that the body was not that of my mother. She has a birthmark on her right cheek, her cheekbones were raised, but all those were missing including the shape of her nose and chin. I tried to talk to others but they somehow convinced me that it was her. The body was then buried,” states the 41-year-old in the affidavit.

Meanwhile, later that same morning, another family in Maun, the Phetelos, arrived at the mortuary to collect their mother’s body for burial the following day.

While some family members could reportedly tell from the onset that the corpse was someone else, others remained convinced that the mortuary process had altered Kilano’s appearance.

Despite the reservations of some, the body was identified and taken home for burial.

“When we were bidding our mother last farewell, almost everybody who viewed the corpse doubted it was her body lying in there. That is when the issue of wrong identity was seriously taken up and the family elders agreed to reopen the casket. Her headscarf was removed and it became apparent to everybody that we had a wrong body because her hair was different!” declared Kilano’s granddaughter in the court affidavit.

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The funeral proceedings were immediately stopped and the mortuary owner, Magonamo Mmolainyana called to solve the mix-up.

The corpse was taken back to the mortuary and Mmolainyana travelled to Tsau to investigate the matter further.

“Tsau family confirmed their initial doubts and following a court order, the bodies were taken to their rightful families for burial. Fortunately the corpse was still in a good state and was viewed by mourners before reburial,” Mmolainyana revealed in a brief interview with Okavango Voice this week.

Echoing Nare’s earlier comments, the mortuary man stressed that what happened was a genuine mistake from all parties involved.

“All I am asking is that going forth, deceased bodies should only be identified by very close family members, that is, siblings and parents, to avoid confusion.”

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