DNA Backlog, poor conviction rate of GBV-perpetrators appalling

CAPE TOWN.  – At least 161 prosecutions in violent sexual crimes in the Western Cape had to be abandoned within a few months simply because of DNA evidence that could not be tested.

A front-page report in Die Burger on 18th October quoted Gillion Bosman, a DA-LP and the DA Western Cape spokesperson for social development, as saying the evidence was received from the Western Cape of community safety’s unit that attends court cases where the state could no longer prosecute because of a lack of DNA-evidence.

A staggering 36 647 sexual offense cases are outstanding in the Western Cape, as a result of the DNA backlog.

In September this year, the DA’s Reagen Allen and Bosman warned of the increasing DNA backlog relating to gender-based violence cases at police forensic labs.

Bosman told www.iol.co.za he submitted a dossier to the president’s national council on gender-based violence.

“It outlines the status of gender-based violence in the Western Cape and the enormous backlog of DNA cases relating to gender-based violence at the SAPS forensic science laboratory,” he said.

He added: “We request that the council facilitate the collaboration of SAPS with the private sector, to outsource DNA processing so that the backlog is eradicated as an urgent priority.”

“This is well within the mandate of the gender-based violence and femicide National Strategic Plan.

Allen, the DA’s Western Cape spokesperson for community safety, said that gender-based violence, concerning the backlog in DNA processing, was recognised as a Policing Need and Priority (PNP) by the Western Cape provincial executive.

“As the DA, we support this important step and urge Minister Bheki Cele to actually live up to the Constitutional requirement that he includes PNP recommendations in policing policy for our province,” he said.

Bosman and Allen disclosed that after an oversight visit to the SAPS forensic science laboratory, they’ve learned that it would take at least 18 months to eradicate the backlogged cases.

“Victims of gender-based violence and femicide have suffered enough, but the centralised process in Pretoria delays and denies justice even longer for them and their families,” Bosman said.

He added: “This is a result of SAPS’ failure to secure a tender process that would allow the DNA analysis machines and related equipment to be serviced.”

“Instead, we have a situation where many machines have been out of service for over 1200 days.”

Many gender-based violence survivors subsequently witnessed their perpetrators walk free, without being convicted.

Allen and Bosman said that the chaos in the system jeopardizes the prevalence of justice for many.

From March to September 2020, only 130 of the 4058 people arrested for alleged gender-based violence had been convicted.

This was revealed by police minister Bheki Cele in reply to a parliamentary question from the DA. This translated to a conviction rate of only 3 %.

DA MP Alexandra Abrahams told the Sowetan it is beyond question that as a result of the low conviction rate, the justice system is letting down the victims of gender-based violence by exposing them to potential re-victimization.

It is vital for South African activists to mobilize so that perpetrators of gender-based violence are denied bail when they appear in court, said Tina Thiart, founder member of 1000 Women Trust.

It is equally important that South Africans unite and call for an enormous improvement in the way the South African Police manage women who visit police stations to report gender-based violence crimes.

The criminal justice system in South Africa needs an urgent overhaul as it does not sufficiently protect women who have been subjected to gender-based violence, rape and abuse, said Thiart.