SAPS DNA backlog prevents family burying man one year after death
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Durban - NEXT Monday will mark a year since Sphamandla Khumalo, 32, died when a fire swept through the Malacca Road informal settlement in Durban North.
His family cannot bury him because of the backlog in DNA test results at the SAPS Forensic Services Laboratory (FSL) in KwaZulu-Natal.
His mother, Tholakele Doris Gwala, 59, formerly from Nqutu, said they were desperate to put the incident behind them and go ahead with the funeral.
She was not coping and the delay has brought undue stress which she is receiving counselling for.
“The police said it was out of their hands. They also have cases pending from 2018. We are concerned because we might have to wait a few years. My son was the breadwinner. We are still mourning his death. To know that he is not given a final send off is worrying,” Gwala said.
This week it was revealed that the SAPS had a DNA forensic backlog of 8 388 cases, most dating as far back as February last year, and that approximately 5 400 of the cases were related to sexual assault.
This was revealed by acting Community Safety MEC Peggy Nkonyeni, who said there were also staff shortages, while equipment needed servicing and calibration.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo yesterday said the system to track and trace forensic exhibits was now fully up and running.
“This follows a reported "disappearance" of millions of forensic exhibits at the National Forensic DNA Database due to the Property Control and Exhibit Management (PCEM) system being shut down by the service provider in June 2020. In fact, these exhibits were stored in the Forensic Service Laboratory Administration System and could only be accessed manually,” Naidoo said.
The police worked together with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and developed the Forensic Exhibit Management (FEM) System.
Naidoo said the FEM system went live on April 6, 2021 and approximately 10 million samples from the Forensic Laboratory Admin System have been loaded.
He said nearly 25 000 new exhibits have also been loaded into this system.
“The testing of specimens for DNA also reached a bottleneck. This resulted in an accumulative backlog of over 170 000 samples. This emanated from the shortage of Quantification Kits or so called “DNA consumables” that are essential for DNA testing at the police Forensic Science Laboratories.“
He said a two-year contract with a service provider to supply the consumables was being finalised as the kits had to be validated before they were procured.
“It is a process that is absolutely necessary to ensure that consumables used for this DNA testing are indeed valid for this process. This process is expected to conclude in the next two months. In the meantime the SAPS has procured enough kits on a quotation basis to last at least three months. Testing of new samples can continue allowing enough time for the validation process to be completed.”
“DNA samples required for court cases especially related to gender-based violence cases as well as DNA samples needed for identification of persons for burials are being prioritized. The workforce of the forensic analysts has been adjusted to allow for overtime work.”
An NGO fighting GBV called Funk it I’m Walking said the backlog was alarming and of grave concern.
Founder Nomsa Mazwai said the backlog not only impacted the ability of the police to investigate and close cases, it also substantially increased the possible margin of error when the work was eventually done.
“From the work we did during #WalkingInHeels with SWEAT and SISONKE one of the glaring realities was the disdain that law enforcement has for sex workers. The backlog is not a only a problem for sex workers. The backlog creates an opportunity for the perpetrators to get away with sex crimes and murder. Something must be done to reduce and the backlog to ensure cases are solved timeously.”