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South Africa’s worsening forensic nightmare has allowed the alleged murderers in two high-profile cases, one involving a two-year-old child, to allegedly continue committing crimes – because toxicology tests in previous cases they’re linked to are held up in a 15 000-strong testing backlog.
While one police expert has warned that the state could be held liable by the families after the murders of their loved ones, the national health department says it will take at least two years to get rid of the backlog.
The two cases are:
l Sabre Jacobs, 2, died in May 2008. Because it was believed he swallowed a toxic substance, a toxicology report was requested.
Four years later, on December 30 last year, the child’s mother, Zulpha Jacobs, was arrested for allegedly killing a younger child, Tariq, who was also two when he died. Tariq was born more than a year after Sabre’s death.
So far, all four of Jacobs’s children have died.
l In the second case, the former husband of Zaheera Wookey, of Walkerville in Gauteng, died in mysterious circumstances in hospital in 2010. A toxicology report was requested.
While awaiting the results, Wookey allegedly murdered another man, John Naisby, an 83-year-old pensioner from Cape Town who flew to meet Wookey after a Facebook fling with her.
Four men previously involved with Wookey have also died.
Rudolph Zinn, professor of policing at Unisa’s School of Criminal Justice and Police Practice, told Weekend Argus the mammoth testing backlog had now overtaken the equally concerning backlog in DNA testing, which could have stopped serial killer Moses Sithole if his DNA tests were properly checked when he attacked and raped his first victim.
Sithole was released after raping a woman in 1994, even though forensic tests were done. But they were not properly filed or timeously received, so his crime spree continued.
Sithole killed 38 people and committed 40 rapes before finally being brought to justice in 1997, when the court sentenced him to more than 2 000 years behind bars.
“All the crimes after the first rape could have been prevented,” said Zinn.
Last year Weekend Argus reported on family members who were told they should expect to wait five to 10 years for forensic testing to be completed in cases involving their loved ones.
One was Eva Taylor, mother of Kurt Taylor, who collapsed and died in February last year after playing pool with his cousin at an entertainment venue in Joburg.
Zinn said a repeat of the DNA backlog was occurring, this time with toxicology.
“By the time the state realises what’s going on, there’s been unnecessary loss of life,” he charged, adding that the state was obliged to protect people.
“By not processing toxicology tests, they’re allowing criminals to commit repeat offences that could have been prevented,” Zinn said.
The current long wait for the results of toxicology tests, done at three forensic chemistry laboratories of the Department of Health, based in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, runs to five to six years. There is also a considerable lack of necessary skills.
Health Department spokesman Fidel Hadebe acknowledged it would take at least another two years to address the backlog, and that they were being inundated with complaints from frustrated members of the public.
Alida Grove, the department’s director of forensic pathology services, said the complaints were about everything from murder cases to “individuals who have been found dead with no sign as to the cause of death”.
She revealed that 29 aspirant analysts and 70 interns were currently being trained.
Hadebe said the new staff would have to be trained before the work could be done properly and timeously. The problem arose because so many staff had left for more pay in the private sector.
When Grove was asked whether families had the choice of going the private sector route for testing, she said this was impossible, since “toxicology tests have to be done by forensic science laboratories”.