Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the lack of progress was a “travesty” with particularly grave implications for the safety and security of women.
Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the lack of progress was a “travesty” with particularly grave implications for the safety and security of women.

Forensics GBV backlog ’a travesty’

By Okuhle Hlati Time of article published Aug 26, 2021

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Cape Town - In a “travesty” that has particularly grave implications for the safety and security of women, the Western Cape has a backlog of 27 989 Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) cases at the police’s forensic labs, which includes delays in DNA analysis.

In a report under the review period of April 2021 to August 19 presented by the police ministry to the Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Police, it was highlighted that there was a total of 90 201 backlogs, of which the Western Cape follows Gauteng with 53 327 cases.

The report showed that forensics registered a total of 114 962 new cases nationally in their system during the same period.

Of the 114 962 about 71 304 cases are yet to be attended, adding to the existing DNA backlog.

And police are only expecting it to be cleared in November next year.

Police to want to collaborate with public-private forensic science laboratories including the Central Analytical Facilities (CAF) at Stellenbosch University and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in effort to reduce GBVF cases and DNA backlogs.

Earlier this year President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the GBVF Response Fund1 which is being led by the private sector with R128 million pledged by companies and organised business to fight the scourge.

“Challenges in the Forensic Service include approach to contract management or procurement,” the report noted.

It suggested public-private partnerships could deal with the backlog.

Police national Commissioner Khehla Sitole said they were anticipating the backlog to be cleared by November 2022.

But committee chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the lack of progress was a “travesty” with particularly grave implications for the safety and security of women.

The committee previously noted that some challenges at the National Forensic Science Laboratories (FSL) include ineffective supply chain management systems and processes, leading to protracted delays in the procurement of buccal sample kits.

The FSL also reported an under-expenditure with only 81% of its budget spent.

Another historical challenge has been the prolonged legal dispute between the SAPS and Forensic Data Analysts in relation to ICT contracts.

“While we welcome the new partnership we are concerned that instead of the backlog decreasing there is actually an increase. We also saw contradictions with the last report served.The police might need to update the committee on a monthly basis,” Joemat-Pettersson said.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, KRISP director said they were approached because they have shown during the pandemic that government and academic institutions with high capacity for DNA testing were needed and they can work together.

“These partnerships are very important and we are excited for it. We have high level machines and our laboratories also have high accreditation from South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) ISO. We are well equipped to assist the police with the DNA backlog.”

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said: “The Central Analytical Facilities (CAF), Stellenbosch University is looking forward at the prospect of working with the GBVF Response Fund in contributing to eradicating the national crises of gender-based violence and femicide."

DNA for Africa regional director Vanessa Lynch said it will be interesting to compare how swiftly the private forensic laboratories are able get through their samples as they don’t have the same issues which have plagued the FSL.

“The minister has endorsed the use of the private laboratories to assist the backlog which is a good thing, as long as the same chemistries and methodologies are used.”

According to the report 14 contracts have been concluded with six still outstanding.

“In a laboratory everything needs to be functional in order for the whole system to operate. I know some robotic machines have not been maintained or serviced so the outstanding contracts need to be concluded urgently.

“If a sample is not analysed, the DNA profile cannot be loaded into the database meaning serial offenders cannot be identified and they will continue to rape people.

“If court cases are not concluded by showing how an accused is linked to the crime scene sample then these people continue to act with impunity. I believe there is a direct correlation between the rise in the DNA backlog and rape statistics,” Lynch said.

It appears as if some progress was made in dealing with the backlog but police need to show more transparency and accountability by going back to Parliament to report on a monthly basis as suggested due to past inaccuracies or misleading information in reports, she said.

“Survivors need access to their own information and a DNA backlog dashboard will ensure the police account to the public in respect of their promised progress.”

Cape Times

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