The forensic science laboratory’s (FSL) electronic registry system, which manages evidence for DNA analysis, has been down for almost a year.
“Obviously this has an enormous impact on the handing over and processing of DNA tests as it is now done manually,” says Dr Rineé Pretorius, spokesperson for Action Society.
Up until now funding regarding consumables and maintenance contracts for the highly sensitive machinery has been the scapegoat. According to reliable sources the system however is the real major issue foreseeing gloomy news to the thousands of victims waiting for justice to prevail.
“As a civil rights organisation fighting for the rights of women and children, we expect the truth to be revealed this morning when the National Forensic Oversight Ethics Board (DNA council) appears before the Portfolio Committee on Police. They are accountable to report back as to why the system is down, when the problem will be sorted and what government’s immediate plan is to change the status quo,” says Pretorius.
According to a report by the South African Police Service (SAPS) on 11 November 2020 a backlog in 117,736 DNA samples were recorded. The fact that the system has been down since June 2020 implies that the latest figures to be announced today will be far worse.
“The public must understand that there are a chain of events happening from the time a victim reports an incident at the police station until DNA evidence can be presented to court. If this system is not in place it exposes the chain and jeopardises the credibility of evidence. Action Society is concerned that thousands of pending rape cases will never be submitted to court because of this,” Pretorius explained.
“Put yourself in the shoes of the defenceless mother whose daughter had just been raped. There is a great need for community centres that can assist and support victims throughout the process.”
“We can‟t allow that the processing of DNA samples bring our criminal justice system to its knees. The matter needs to be addressed urgently. We have the necessary technology (which is not maintained) and a rape conviction rate of 7,8%: South Africa’s government is failing its citizens! When it comes to these essential services, politics must be pushed aside,” says Pretorius.
On Action Society‟s request regarding the state of affairs the head of the FSL, Major General Edward Ngokha, yesterday refused to comment.
The pressure group argues that the problem can only be solved if the government is willing to engage in partnerships with private laboratories, which have the resources and capacity to help. Given the first critical 48 hours of a case, Action Society‟s proposal for community centres, where victims has access to private detectives and trauma counsellors, is extremely relevant.
Action Society is also campaigning for the implementation of special sexual offenses courts to fast-track convictions to remove sexual predators from society as soon as possible.
“The state must get a grip on the wheel of justice by addressing the DNA problems with urgency. If the government is serious about gender-based violence (GBV), they should use every resource at their disposal to address the DNA backlog.”