Molecular genetic identification of skeletal remains of apartheid activists in South Africa

  • S Davison
  • M Benjeddou
  • ME D’Amato
Keywords: Missing people, mass graves, DNA identification, mitochondrial DNA, short tandem repeats, sequence polymorphisms


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission made significant progress in examining abuses committed during the apartheid era in South Africa. Despite information revealed by the commission, a large number of individuals remained missing when the commission closed its proceedings. This provided the impetus for the establishment of a Missing Persons Task Team within the South African National Prosecuting Authority. The team has used evidence generated by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as their own investigations to identify likely burial sites for activists and has conducted exhumations. The University of the Western Cape (UWC) was privileged to have been able to assist by initiating a DNA testing program to augment the non-DNA evidence gathered by the Missing Person’s Task Team. In this review we consider some of the technological developments associated with the testing of skeletal remains and provide an overview of some of the cases analyzed to date.

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eISSN: 1684-5315