Cape Town - Liezel de Jager was murdered more than 775 days ago; Mia Botha was found dead 500 days ago; Cleo Diko died 370 days ago; and Chevonne Rusch was killed more than 631 days ago.
Crime activists have warned that in many of these cases, forensic neglect makes an arrest impossible. In others, the backlogs cause delay upon delay in court. In some cases, the forensic evidence is so poorly handled or tested that it is useless and no perpetrators can be identified.
But the launch of the new Knysna Forensic Pathology Laboratory this week has been met with optimism, as it aims to enhance the investigation of unnatural deaths and provide solace to grieving families in the Western Cape.
The R32.956 million facility, completed and commissioned in October, was officially inaugurated by the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness on Wednesday.
Provincial MEC Professor Nomafrench Mbombo and key stakeholders, including the director of Forensic Pathology Services in the Western Cape, Vonita Thompson, were present at the opening ceremony.
Thompson said the state-of-the-art lab would cater for communities in Knysna, Sedgefield, Rheenendal, Plettenberg Bay, and neighbouring areas. It would also offer improved working conditions for staff.
The new facility replaces an outdated and cramped space on the premises of the Knysna SAPS. The previous site hindered service delivery and presented occupational health and safety concerns.
Strategically situated at Knysna Provincial Hospital, the new lab is expected to streamline operations and provide accurate and timely forensic services to the region.
The department said the new facility had already resulted in improved service delivery by offering improved medico-legal support to investigations for the justice system, an improved and dignified public experience with an appropriate public interface and bereavement space, as well as improved staff morale.
Mbombo praised the facility. “I am honoured to officially open this key piece of infrastructure. The commission of this facility represents a significant investment in both our healthcare infrastructure and the well-being of our communities. I look forward to the impact it will continue to have on the lives of our residents.”
Civil rights organisation and police watchdog Action Society also welcomed the opening of the new lab, but warned it would keep an eye on its success rate.
The organisation’s director, Ian Cameron, said: “Theoretically we welcome it, as any assistance will always be welcomed, especially with the state we find ourselves in when it comes to court cases and their delays due to forensic evidence. Like they say, the proof is in the pudding.”
He referred to the many cases still unsolved due to outstanding forensic evidence, and said while he acknowledged the extra support, he believed it did not always filter down to ground level.
“Forensic evidence is by far the most effective crime-fighting tool, but despite the president proclaiming war against GBV on many occasions, the government and especially the SAPS are not taking any real action,” Cameron said.