Police missed October target to clear DNA backlogs - but Cele says it will by done by January

Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Police Minister Bheki Cele.
  • Police Minister Bheki Cele says the DNA backlog at SAPS forensic laboratories has been reduced in the past six months from 241 000 to 71 000. 
  • Cele said he expected the entire backlog to be cleared by January 2023 as the government outlined the successes and shortcomings of its multipronged national strategic plan to eradicate gender-based violence. 
  • The clearing of the DNA backlog, according to Cele, comes on the back of the government providing more support to understaffed laboratories.

The DNA backlog at Forensic Science Laboratories that once stood at a whopping 241 000 has been reduced to 71 000.

At the same time, the government expects it to be cleared by January 2023.

This was the assurance given by Police Minister Bheki Cele during a media briefing by the inter-ministerial committee on gender-based violence and femicide on Monday. 

Cele acknowledged the police's failures to meet its own initial deadline of clearing the backlog by October 2022.

“In the first quarter of the year 2021/22, in April, we had that huge DNA backlog of 241 000… since April, we have reduced that backlog to 71 000. We expect to complete the backlog by January 2023. 

“We had aimed to have done so by October 2022 but come January, we would have dealt with it,” said Cele. 

The minister said what was concerning was that most of the DNA were from cases where women would have been abused, raped, or even murdered, and without the DNA results, those cases remained open and without finality. 

READ | Cele booed as union protests law enforcement budget cuts outside SAPS' headquarters

He said the main reason for the staggering backlog was the lack of professionalism in how contracts with companies working with the Forensic Science Laboratories had been conducted in the past. 

“One of the major problems that we have tried to correct was the nonprofessional management of contracts. There were 16 contracts that were allowed to collapse. Now, all these contracts are back in place and being monitored on a month-to-month basis, so much so that when there are six months left for the expiry of these contracts, we then immediately work on its renewal,” said Cele. 

He added that the government had also preemptively identified "the top 30 stations that have high levels of abuse and rape".

These stations had been given extra money, around R100 million each, to deal with shortages of equipment required in processing victims of gender-based violence and femicide, without having to follow the necessary procurement processes. 

According to Cele, of the 71 000 outstanding DNA results, police and the National Prosecuting Authority were working to fast-track 16 078 of those to get them to court.

Cele also highlighted that his ministry had “strengthened” the police's capacity by hiring more staff and building a new laboratory. 

READ | DNA backlog to be cleared in 6 months, says Cele

“In the Western Cape laboratory, our interns were dismissed, there were 24, but we have managed to bring back 20 of them. In Pretoria, we have added eight data analysts, and, as we speak, we have recruited 200 Bachelor of Science students who are in training and will be unleashed on these institutions so that we don’t go back to where we were with huge backlogs.” 

He added that the laboratory in the Eastern Cape would be finished in February and would be fully functional by April. 

“When that laboratory in the Eastern Cape becomes fully functional, it will take all the load off the Western Cape. Most of the backlog that you find in the Western Cape comes from the Eastern Cape,” said Cele. 

The police minister reiterated that the police's duty was not only to “reduce, respond and react” to cases of gender-based violence and femicide but also to prevent them. 

Government’s multipronged plan to deal with gender-based violence and femicide 

During the media briefing that took place on the eve of the Second Presidential GBVF Summit, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane announced how the government's multipronged national strategic plan to combat gender-based violence had been doing. 

Nkoana-Mashabane said, “While a lot has been done, more still could be done, in terms of the collaborative and inclusive steps taken to implement the national strategic plan to combat gender-based violence." 

Some of the achievements outlined by Nkoana-Mashabane were the government’s ability to pass into law three pieces of legislation in Parliament to “close the gaps that allow perpetrators of gender-based violence to evade justice". 

"Our courts have also taken a tough stance on perpetrators of gender-based violence and femicide; this year alone, they have handed down they have handed down numerous life sentences for crimes committed against women and children," the minister added.  

She also pointed to the number of shelters and care centres for survivors being increased, the “capacity of our police to deal with crimes of gender-based violence being further developed”, and sexual offences courts being established across the country as other noteworthy gains in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide. 

Nkoana-Mashabane announced that the government was in the process of introducing a system that would identify gender-based violence and femicide offenders by verifying their fingerprints and checking them against Department of Home Affairs records. 

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“As part of our efforts to ensure that women do not stay in toxic relationships because they are financially dependent on men, we have promised the creation of economic opportunities for women in all government programmes," she added. 

The Department of Correctional Services is, according to Nkoana-Mashabane, implementing victim-centered parole proceedings and providing rehabilitation programmes. 

The department is also offering victim-offender mediation, and victim-offender dialogue.

The ministerial task team on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in South African universities was set up in 2019 as part of a response to an open letter written by a group of academics containing proposals to address the scourge. 

Its steering committee is comprised of a variety of government stakeholders, including the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Social Development, and civil society organisations. 

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