- The South African Police Service's forensics division is buckling under the weight of a DNA backlog which is delaying justice for victims of violent crime.
- By April, the backlog exceeded 210,000 cases.
- This was reduced by just 21% in almost five months, according to a presentation to parliament's portfolio committee on police on Tuesday.
- At this rate, the backlog will only be cleared by January 2023.
- But the slow processing of new entries, totalling nearly 115,000 in the past five months, is likely to extend the current timeline.
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The South African Police Service (SAPS) is making slow progress in processing its backlog of DNA samples, having reduced outstanding cases by just 21% over the past five months.
South Africa's fight against gender-based violence and sexual assault is being undermined by SAPS' delay in processing DNA samples. The burgeoning backlog of cases continues to squeeze the brakes on the wheels of justice and further frustrate victims of violent crimes.
This crisis in not new. Reports of South Africa's DNA backlog stretch back almost two decades, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) which examined SAPS' criminal record and forensic science service (CRFSS) in 2008. The situation has become considerably worse in recent years.
"The backlog experienced at the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratories has given us sleepless nights," said Police Minister Bheki Cele during a parliamentary debate before the National Assembly in May.
"Equally, it has been a nightmare for everyone relying on the services of the laboratories to find justice and closure."
Cele blamed the backlog on budget constraints and ineffective contract management, adding that a request for additional funding was made in 2019. From June 2020, electronic track and tracing ground to a halt when disputes led to IT service provider Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) shutting down the computer systems.
This culminated in the perfect storm, creating a DNA backlog which exceeded 210,000 cases – by SAPS' own account – involving millions of samples by April.
A presentation by SAPS to parliament’s portfolio committee on police on Tuesday provided an update on issues facing its forensics division and progress made by the newly appointed DNA Board.
SAPS noted that of the 210,864 cases identified as the initial backlog by April, 44,537 of these cases had been successfully concluded by 19 August. This represents a reduction of 21% in just under five months, with 166,327 cases still backlogged.
At the current rate of progress directed by the National Forensic Oversight and Ethics Board, the backlog will only be cleared by January 2023.
And even this is an optimistic timeline, due to the slow processing of new entries gathered over the past five months, as pointed out by members of the parliamentary committee.
Between April and August, almost 115,000 new DNA cases were registered. By 19 August, just 38% of these cases had been processed.
The cumulative total of all outstanding DNA cases – new entries and the ringfenced backlog combined – is nearly 238,000.
(Compiled by Luke Daniel)
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