“The DNA backlog – which has not been cleared as the Minister of Police and Presidency would lead us to believe – and the delay in activating the Convicted Offenders Bill (CO Bill) directly impacts and escalates crime in the country,” said Ian Cameron, Director of Community Safety at Action Society. “It leaves the victims of repeat offenders like Thabo Bester vulnerable.”
The DNA of the body found in serial criminal Bester’s cell could only be established after ten months. Since his escape, he’s been living a royal life, continuing with criminal acts under false names. If the Departments of Correctional Services (DCS) and Police (SAPS) immediately realised the body did not belong to Bester through DNA captured by a buccal swab, they could have started the search immediately.
Action Society drove the campaign to get the CO (or DNA-) Bill signed into power, making it mandatory for convicted offenders in schedule 8 offences to give their buccal samples. It took seven years (from 2017 to 2021) to get the Amendment Bill submitted to Parliament, and the President finally signed it into law on 9 December, 2022. However, the Act only commenced on 3 March 2023. Before that date, no buccal DNA samples of convicted offenders were captured, leading to no system linking them to previous crimes.
Furthermore, the cleared backlog of DNA processing only refers to the ringfenced backlog between 11 May 2021 and 19 August 2021. Therefore, it does not take into account the influx of sample entries registered after that date.
In the past year, there have been multiple high-profile escapes from maximum-security prisons, including the escape of seven inmates from the Makhanda prison in Grahamstown. In the 2020/2021 financial year, 117 inmates escaped, while 34 broke out of correctional facilities in the financial year before. According to DCS’s 2021/2022 financial year annual report, 22 inmates escaped from various prisons around the country.
“Most of these escapees are repeat offenders, but because of the DNA backlog, it will take months, if not years, to link them to crimes committed after they fled, if indeed their buccal samples were captured,” says Cameron. “What message does that send to victims of brutal criminals?”
Action Society is also in the process of establishing how many buccal samples of convicted schedule 8 offenders have been captured since the CO Bill commenced and how fast a link can be made between incoming offenders and DNA-processed offenders.
Furthermore, Action Society calls for the immediate resignation or removal of Minister Ronald Lamola, Minister Bheki Cele, and the National Commissioner of Correctional Services Makgothi Thobakgale for their lack of action in addressing the issues facing the criminal justice system.
Support Action Society’s call for Cele’s head by following this link, and help us to get the criminal justice system working.