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Concern over massive DNA testing backlog continues

THE portfolio committee on police conducted oversight visits to the Forensic Science Laboratory Services in Tshwane at the weekend. File picture

THE portfolio committee on police conducted oversight visits to the Forensic Science Laboratory Services in Tshwane at the weekend. File picture

Published May 17, 2021


DURBAN - THE portfolio committee on police conducted an oversight visit to the Forensic Science Laboratory Services in Tshwane on Saturday to gather information on the widely reported backlog at this SAPS division.

This was a day after Police Minister Bheki Cele released the crime statistics for January 1, 2021, to March 31, 2021.

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The committee said it would monitor the process very closely as the department implements systems to fix the DNA backlog which SAPS management said could take up to the end of next year.

“The committee noted that the national outcry on the forensic backlog was justified as this could jeopardise the fight against violent crimes such as gender-based violence and femicide if it is not urgently addressed,” the committee said.

On Friday, Cele admitted that the DNA delays were severe but said 42% of dockets for crimes committed against women and children – outstanding for over a year – had been finalised.

There was a decline in sexual offence cases, but 9 518 people had been raped, he said.

“This is a decrease of 387 cases – an almost 4% decrease compared to the previous reporting period,” said Cele.

There was an overall decline of 8.5% in contact crimes but murder increased by 8.4% and attempted murder by 8.7%. KwaZulu-Natal (16.9%) and the Eastern Cape (21.5%) recorded double-digit increases, while 11 people were killed in farm attacks.

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Property-related crimes decreased by 20.8% and stock theft by 11.1%.

All cases of assault declined by over 9%, aggravated robberies such as car hijacking increased by almost 5%, robberies at non-residential places increased by 2.8% and cash-in-transit heists decreased by 10.6%.

DA spokesperson on police Andrew Whitfield said the crime statistics showed that 58% of gender-based violence dockets had not been finalised for more than a year. Rape remained extremely high, despite a slight decline. An average of 105.7 people were raped a day between January and March 2021.

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“This demonstrates the urgency with which the DNA backlog crisis has to be addressed. Continued delays in DNA testing will delay justice for thousands of victims of violent crimes,” he said.

“It could take up to 18 months or longer to ensure successful convictions of murders and violent crimes, given the backlog of DNA case exhibits.”

FF Plus leader Dr Pieter Groenewald said Cele boasted about a 4% drop in rape incidents, but 9 518 rapes still took place.

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“In most cases, the perpetrators will probably get away with it as police laboratories are unable to conduct DNA tests. To prove that someone is guilty, DNA test results are indispensable.

“The minister is also misleading the public by saying progress is being made with catching up on the backlog. In fact, the problem could soon be exacerbated by a lawsuit regarding the intellectual property rights of the system used in conducting the DNA tests,” he said.

IFP spokesperson on police Zandile Majozi welcomed the 8.5% decrease in contact crimes, but said other statistics showed South Africa’s current policing strategy was ineffective. The almost double-digit increase in aggravated robberies was “alarming. With KZN identified as a murder hotspot, social intervention (deployment of social workers in wards) must complement community policing forums and a comprehensive policing strategy in preventing heinous crimes”.

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