Dr James Blair Mwesigwa (60), who stole body parts at the Diepkloof mortuary, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court last month.
Mwesigwa stole organs from the body of Alida Scheepers on October 24, 2013, after she was killed in a car accident.
The specialist doctor was caught at the Diepkloof government mortuary in Soweto trying to walk out with a bucket containing certain body parts of the dead white woman. Such body parts are often used in African witchcraft ceremonies.
The Gauteng Department of Health suspended him pending the finalisation of disciplinary processes, but he approached the courts to interdict the department and was successful in securing pre-disciplinary arbitration.
He was thus allowed to return to work even though he had desecrated a body, a serious offense. News24 reported that doctors and other staff were so appalled by the doctor’s return to work that they stopped releasing bodies to family members.
The body parts of Scheepers that were removed by Mwesigwa included the brain, tongue, pharynx, larynx, trachea, lungs, heart, pericardial sac and part of the diaphragm.
Prosecutor Riana Williams argued that the family of the deceased had to suffer the loss of a wife, daughter and a mother in a vehicle accident but were further traumatized by the vile desecration.
Family members had to deal with the fact that the body of the deceased was violated after her death by someone supposedly trustworthy, the professional pathologist.
“He has not showed any remorse. To date the accused has not even showed remorse to the fact that the organs were illegally removed from the deceased. The accused throughout the trial blamed all the witnesses of colluding against him while they were just doing their duty,” she said.
In November 2013 Mwesigwa tried to walk out of the mortuary with a bucket that contained the brain and heart of Scheepers.
The Daily Sun, a South African daily, reported that the doctor had failed to record and state reasons for performing such a strange procedure. It is prescribed by the law relating to the use of Human biological material in the South African National Health Act 61 of 2003, that clear medical reasons be given for such acts.
The conviction was welcomed by the opposition party the Democratic Alliance. Jack Bloom, MPL and DA Gauteng shadow health MEC, said this had been a long-running case from November 2013.
“This case must be speeded up and extra controls put in to prevent the stealing of body parts from state mortuaries,” Bloom had told the media before the sentencing, alluding to the ongoing problem of harvesting body parts for witchcraft.
He later noted that the doctor should not have been allowed to return to work. “The Gauteng Health Department handled this case very badly, suspending him on full pay for 17 months, during which time he received R1.54-million, before resigning in March 2015.
“Ways should be found to speed up cases like this as Dr Mwesigwa has been free to practice as a doctor for all this time. I hope that he gets a very severe prison sentence for this heinous crime of desecrating the dead.”
Mwesigwa’s argument was ruled unsubstantial by the court and not compelling for him to be granted a lessor sentence. He had previously brought an application for leave to appeal to the High Court against conviction and sentence, but it was dismissed.
While male genitalia are the most sought-after human body part for use in harmful African voodoo practices, female genitalia, tongues, ears, heads and breasts were among the body parts that topped the list of those most sought after in both South Africa and neighbouring Mozambique.
This is according to a research report released by the Mozambican Human Rights League in partnership with Childline South Africa in Durban in 2011.
The study also found South Africa is a lucrative market for body parts trafficked from Mozambique. The research showed that at least one mutilation occurred in both countries every two weeks during the 14 months of the study between 2008 and 2010.
According to the research project’s manager, Simon Fellows, the vast majority of mutilations, 89 percent, took place in Mozambique. Some 75 percent of these body parts ended up in South Africa.
No body part clients have ever been brought to trial, but it is believed that senior government figures are heavily involved in the trade, especially when the political winds are blowing against them.
White body parts are particularly sought after. For that reason Albinos are targeted in most Southern African countries. The Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) documented 25 murders, 15 disappearances and 122 cases of attempted abductions and the exhumation of albino bodies from graves inonly one year, according to British daily The Telegraph.