Last month, I was part of a delegation from the Western Cape legislature which conducted an oversight visit to the South African Police Service (SAPS) Forensic Science Laboratory in Plattekloof, Cape Town. It was brought to our attention that the robotics machines used in the processing of DNA samples relating to gender-based violence (GBV) cases have been “out of order” since 2019.
Not only is GBV a “second pandemic” in this country, but South Africa ranks among the highest in the world when it comes to violence against women and children. In 2018, Statistics SA revealed that the number of women who experienced sexual violence jumped from 31,665 in 2015/16 to 70,813 in 2016/17. Yet, just under two years after this report, machines that could play key roles in cases like these were left unmaintained.
Worse still, the machines are “out of order” not due to overuse, but because of SAPS management negligence. In essence, senior management in Pretoria had not paid attention to contract management for the servicing of these vitally important machines. This begs the question: where are the checks and balances when it comes to basic management of our policing systems?
The consequences of this negligence are dire. DNA samples are crucial in the criminal justice system, but the backlog delays also deny justice for survivors and their families.
Fast forward two more years and the will to service these machines is yet to be found by the national government. This is a shameful display, given that the DA in the Western Cape revealed a backlog of more than 100,000 DNA specimens in total for this province alone. This is a situation that, tragically, is likely to worsen given the rate at which women experience GBV in the country.
In the first three months of this year alone, 9,158 people were raped in the country, of which 1,094 cases occurred in the Western Cape. That is just above 100 cases a day on average nationally, and 12 a day on average provincially.
These statistics were rightfully called “shameful” by Police Minister Bheki Cele. He further said that there was no place for “complacency” and that those “sleeping on the job” should get their act together. While we must commend the minister for speaking the truth on what needs to be done, it would seem as if he is not following his own advice. No amount of lip service at press conferences will change the fact that there seems to be a lack of leadership from his department in performing the basics to fight and prevent GBV.
It becomes more difficult when provinces are not given the mandate to intervene in policing structures tasked with processing cases. This remains a barrier that only once lifted, would bring change to those who have been waiting for justice for several years, especially in the Western Cape.
However, while this barrier remains in place, we must seek all avenues to hold the national government accountable for its role in delaying GBV cases. I have written to the Commission for Gender Equality in the hope that it will intervene over the machines used to process GBV DNA samples. We hope that its response will provide a way forward that will ultimately give hope in finding justice for survivors of GBV, especially for residents in the Western Cape.
In the meantime, we commend the Western Cape Provincial Department of Social Development for stepping up where those at national level have failed. The provincial department runs several shelters for survivors of GBV, facilitates the Victim Empowerment Programme in collaboration with NGOs, as well as ensuring the appointment of 30 social workers dedicated to GBV hotspots including Khayelitsha, Philippi, Gugulethu, Delft, Mitchells Plain and Atlantis.
While these programmes do not have a direct impact in ensuring we overcome the DNA backlog, they are valuable support mechanisms put in place to support survivors of GBV while we await urgency from the national government. DM