Cele admits DNA backlogs are severe but are being addressed

14 May 2021 - 16:13
By alex patrick AND Alex Patrick
Police say the DNA testing backlog at forensic laboratories is being dealt with. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Felipe Caparros Cruz Police say the DNA testing backlog at forensic laboratories is being dealt with. Stock photo.

Police minister Bheki Cele addressed the severe backlogs at the SAPS Forensic Science laboratories during the release of the quarterly crime statistics on Friday afternoon.

“Forensic [cases] like murder and rape are not easily resolved. There is a backlog of [208,291] cases. We believe we have turned it around,” he said.

In April, the chief specialist at the Gauteng Forensic Pathology Service’s southern cluster, Prof Jeanine Vellema, said the backlogs in toxicology tests had existed as long as 10 years.

Cele said they had a target to clear the backlogs within 18 months.

In his address, Cele said the delays had been severe, but that 42% of dockets for crimes committed against women and children that had been outstanding for over a year had now been finalised.

“However, this does not mean we should drop our guards. We remain encouraged that rapists can be brought to book through the availability and access to rape kits at all police stations.

“Moreover, a DNA recovery plan is in place to progressively clear the DNA backlogs experienced at SAPS forensic science laboratories. The nation is assured that we are working around the clock to clear the backlog and GBV cases are being prioritised,” he said.

He said SAPS had advertised 150 new posts for forensic analysts as staffing was one of the reasons for the backlog. A further 128 members of staff had also been promoted internally.

He said the Western Cape and Gauteng laboratories were all functioning but that non-maintenance of the machines was one of the other reasons for the backlogs. Some R250m had been found to create space for overtime and to maintain machines.

Cele said a commitment was made to tighten the SAPS contract management system and ensure contracts were renewed on time. So far, 16 contracts for materials and chemicals had been signed and seven were still being evaluated.

“To ensure in future we avoid a repeat of these bottlenecks, an early warning system to detect any anomalies is being developed. Most importantly, eliminating corrupt practices that once plagued the forensic division of the SAPS is a non-negotiable,” he said.

DA shadow minister of police Andrew Whitfield, in a responding statement to the crime statistics, expressed his displeasure over the DNA delay “crisis”.

Whitfield said it should now be top priority for the SAPS to clear the backlogs.

Continued delays in DNA testing will delay justice for the thousands victims of violent crimes. This erodes the principle of consequences for criminal behaviour and creates an enabling environment for violent criminals to thrive. SAPS’s failure in this regard is giving violent criminals a licence to murder and rape with impunity.

“It could take up to 18 months or longer to ensure successful convictions of the perpetrators of these murders and violent crimes given the backlog of DNA case exhibits.”

He said the DA would write to the chairperson of parliament's police portfolio committee, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, to request that both Cele and the national police commissioner, Gen Khehla Sitole, are summoned to parliament to account for “these dire crime statistics”.