OPINION

Dear Minister Bheki Chele,

Your office has rightly continued to speak out against Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) in South Africa. We also note that crime statistics for the first quarter of the 2022/23 financial year show a decrease in “total sexual offences, such as rape, sexual assault, attempted sexual offenses and contact sexual offences”.

However, Amnesty International South Africa is concerned that the country still has a high rate of murders and attempted murders of women, recorded at 53.2% and 31.4% respectively. The existing backlog of DNA in forensic laboratories denies GBVF victims access to justice.

In March this year, you told the country that the DNA backlog would be cleared within six months. During a media briefing, you said that: “We have given ourselves 18 months to clear the backlog; staff have given us six months, they expect the backlog to be resolved.”Friday 30th September, half a year has passed and there has been no word from your office about the backlog being resolved.

We are also concerned about the lack of reliable DNA backlog data, which compounds the problem. During this year’s address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa noted that “we have made significant progress in reducing the DNA processing backlog, reducing it from 210,000 exhibits in April 2021 to approximately 58,000 currently.” During the SONA debate in February, you also said yourself that the backlog was down to less than 60,000. But then in May, during a nationally televised interview, you said the backlog was 154,000. A member of the portfolio committee for policing recently cited police reports showing that the DNA backlog was 150,131 in June and that figure had risen to 180,381 in July.

The deadline has come and gone, Minister, and yet we have no clear indication of where the backlog lies. In this regard, we request you to inform the nation of the following:

  • Total number of DNA lag;
  • Number relative to DNA lag associated with GN;
  • Estimated time to eliminate the backlog; and
  • That you provide updates on the DNA backlog when reporting quarterly crime statistics.

Minster, the gang-rape and robbery of eight women in Krugersdorp, has not only focused attention on the problem of sex crimes and violence against women in the country, but also served as a terrible reminder that we need to get out of the way. Criminals need to fear being caught and prosecuted, but the DNA backlog doesn’t help with that. There are no real deterrents to committing sex crimes and violent crimes against women, and criminals continue to operate with impunity.

You previously stated that “the backlog…gave us sleepless nights. But as police officers, we did not just toss and turn in our beds from sleepless nights. We threw ourselves into battle, rolled up our sleeves and put our heads together. We knew it was a race against time to urgently find a way out of the nightmare of holding the criminal justice system to ransom.”

Contrary to the above statement, it does not appear that the matter is being treated with the urgency it deserves, and inconsistent and unreliable data suggest a lack of commitment.

We urge you, Minister, to stop talking and keep your promises. We urgently need to ensure that victims of GBV and their families receive justice.

The government and the police continue to fail the people, especially women and children, in the country who continue to face horrific crimes against them with virtually no action from the country’s duty bearers. The state has an obligation to protect people’s rights to life and security, but we do not see this obligation being fulfilled.

We’re not seeing real change fast enough, especially around broken elements of the justice system like the DNA backlog.

We can no longer make excuses for high crime rates and high GBVF rates and broken promises. We demand action, accountability and transparency. Every time crime statistics are published, we hear the same alarm in words.

We say enough!

Sincerely,

Amnesty International in South Africa

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