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Concern over forensic case backlog in KZN, as sexual assault victims wait for justice

KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Nelisiwe Peggy Nkonyeni. Picture: Supplied.

KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Nelisiwe Peggy Nkonyeni. Picture: Supplied.

Published Jun 9, 2021


DURBAN - AS VICTIMS of sexual assault across KwaZulu-Natal wait for justice, evidence that could put their attackers in prison is sitting in cold storage rooms waiting to be processed, in some cases for more than a year.

Statistics released by MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Peggy Nkonyeni showed that KwaZulu-Natal has 8 388 DNA forensic cases dating back as far as February 2020.

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Nkonyeni provided the case numbers in a written parliamentary reply to questions posed by the DA.

About 5 400 of the cases related to sexual assault. According to the May 2021 reply signed by Nkonyeni and Provincial Police Commissioner

Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, the DNA cases have not yet been analysed at the forensic services laboratory in KZN. Once analysed, the cases would then have to go to the SAPS Biology Section in Pretoria for final testing.

There has been widespread concern over the DNA backlog issue, which is also being experienced nationally. Last month, Police Minister Bheki Cele revealed that there were more than 200000 outstanding DNA cases in forensic science laboratory services.

Yesterday, Community Safety Department spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said the backlog was a serious concern for the department and it was working to address it. He said the matter affected the criminal justice system because cases could not proceed without these results, and families could not bury their loved ones without the DNA results.

He said there was a proposal to build a forensic laboratory in Durban as part of the solution.

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Political parties said having such a backlog, especially in cases of sexual assault, was tantamount to victimising the victims.

DA spokesperson on Community Safety and Liaison Sharon Hoosen said: “The DA is horrified by these findings. Given the information provided, it is little wonder that so many people are suffering while criminals are essentially being given a licence to murder and rape with impunity.”

The parliamentary reply said that usually it would take about 35 days to process the DNA, but cases from February 2020 were still awaiting evidence recovery analysis. The reply states that part of the problem resulting in the delays is the lack of capital resources like laboratory consumables, calibration and service maintenance of equipment, PPE, stationery and toner.

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The reply further reveals that the Forensic Services Department does not have adequate resources and there are staff shortages; there are vacancies for 12 administrative staff, four supervisors, three captains and one lieutenant.

It reveals that some specialised machinery is in need of repair; in all, 24 crucial devices are in need of parts, servicing and calibration.

“It is clear that urgent action must be taken. The DA at a national level has repeatedly called on SAPS to urgently investigate partnerships to address the forensic backlog. This seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

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“There appears to be a similar pattern in KZN, with the MEC and her department declining to respond to the DA’s question in this regard.

“If the government cannot correct the main function of SAPS and put criminals behind bars, then its ongoing commitments as to the safety of women in particular amount to very little.

“There is no point in apprehending criminals if they are not convicted and women will continue to be violated,” said Hoosen.

IFP spokesperson on community safety Blessed Gwala said this backlog was causing unnecessary stress to those in need of compassion.

“Someone needs to account for this – the explanation they have been giving so far has not been satisfactory. It is clear that someone has been sleeping on duty. It cannot be that there is such a backlog,” Gwala said.