DNA case backlog explodes to 172 000 in South Africa

The South African Police Service’s turnaround strategy regarding forensic and DNA testing backlogs is failing while thousands of victims of crime await justice.

It was revealed in the Portfolio Committee on Police that the DNA case exhibit backlog has now hit more than 172 000 samples at the National Forensic Science Laboratories (NFSL), and that not a single case exhibit was processed in January or February of this year.

The backlog of case exhibits to be processed could hit the 200 000 mark in March if the current trajectory follows course. This despite the much-lauded SAPS turnaround plan presented to committee in November last year.

At the time the DNA backlog was over 117,000 case exhibits awaiting processing which means the backlog has grown by more than 60,000 case exhibits as the system has ground to a halt.

“The DA raised serious concerns about challenges facing the NFSL throughout 2020 and also questioned whether SAPS’ turnaround plan was realistic. These warnings were ignored and today the NFSL is accumulating more DNA case exhibits than it has the capacity to process resulting in an increasing backlog for the foreseeable future,” said Andrew Whitfield, the DA Shadow Minister of Police.

Last year, the Democratic Alliance (DA) wrote to the National Police Commissioner, General KehlaSitole, asking him to urgently investigate partnerships with private laboratories to address the backlog. This seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

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“The DA once again calls on the General Sitole, and the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, to engage with private laboratories as this continued increase in unprocessed DNA case exhibits is holding up the wheels of justice and this situation must not be allowed to continue.

The NFSL would not be facing these dire circumstances had SAPS not mismanaged the supply chain processes and urgently addressed the collapse of its contract management capacity.

Maintenance contracts for sensitive equipment have not been renewed and shortages in consumables and reagents crucial to the analysis of DNA, while being addressed, have yet to be fully resolved.

While crime is an ever-increasing problem in South Africa, SAPS is expected to tackle this problem with its hands tied behind the back. DNA testing is critical to the successful prosecution of criminals and this issue deserves an urgent solution. The DA will monitor the situation very closely and continue to fight for the victims of the most heinous crimes,” added Whitfield.

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