“Minister Bheki Cele is misleading the country when it comes to the DNA backlog,” said Ian Cameron, Director of Community Safety at Action Society. “His recent claim of the backlog standing at 71 000 is not telling the complete truth. Instead, he uses smoke and mirrors to make it seem like the backlog is declining.”
The Portfolio Committee on Police (PCP) heard that the DNA backlog stood at 173 000 in March 2021. Action Society learned through a PAIA application that the backlog stood at 241 152 in April 2021. Cele reported that the backlog then declined to 166 327 in August last year. The minister continued publicly stating that they are working down the backlog and, at the GBV Summit this month, said the backlog now stood at around 71 000.
However, Cele failed to mention that he kept referring to the initial ringfenced cases, which excludes new cases not processed within 30 days after June 2021. If Cele had been leading with integrity, he would have explained that the backlog actually continues to grow because the National Forensic Service Laboratories (NFSL) cannot handle the influx of about 18 000 new entries per month, much less work down the ringfenced cases.
This revelation then also voids the PAIA response from the police in July 2022, stating that “…there is no need for the appointment of private contractors at the moment, since the backlog is currently being down managed accordingly.” In his report to the PCP in August 2021, Cele said public-private partnerships are part of the solution to optimise laboratory capacity.
“For a government which continuously claims to be fighting against gender-based violence, this “strategy” seems to show an utter disrespect for victims of GBV,” said Cameron. “The GBV Summit would have been the ideal stage to be honest about the DNA backlog and announce how the police department will use any available resources to solve the problem. But, instead, Cele chose to continue lying to save face.
“The next time you go around creatively with statistics, Mr Cele, we hope you think of the four-year-old girls Bokgabo Poo, Mia Botha and Chevonne Rusch, whose bereaved parents cannot process their deaths because the DNA backlog halts their murder investigations. Stop being stubborn. Be honest and admit you need help.”
Action Society has instructed its legal team to bring a PAIA application to clarify the state of the DNA backlog, including ringfenced, newly backlogged and monthly entries.