Thank you OSF-SA

October 17th, 2014

Yesterday I submitted our final progress report to the Open Society Foundation for South Africa [OSF-SA]. This brings to a close 7 years of funding and support we have received from the OSF-SA since 2007.

OSF-Header

The OSF-SA first contacted me on the 3rd October 2007 following a programme on Carte Blanche which highlighted the work we were doing and what we were trying to achieve in SA. The then Programme Director of the Criminal Justice Initiative of the OSF-SA ,  having watched the programme, sent me the following email:

“Dear Vanessa

The Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA) is a grant making organisation based in Cape Town (www.osf.org.za). The goal of the Criminal Justice Initiative (CJI) as a programme of the Foundation is to build accountability within the criminal justice system with the intention of ensuring a more humane, efficient and accountable criminal justice process as a whole. To this end, the CJI provides funding to a range of NGO’s working in the field of criminal justice.

While we can give no guarantees of financial support at this stage, we would be very interested in hearing more about the DNA Project and its work. If you are interested in setting up an initial exploratory meeting with us, please give me a call or send me an e-mail.

Kind regards
Louise”

Well, the rest as they say, is history. Following a meeting the next week with the OSF-SA and after drafting and submitting my first funding application on behalf of the DNA Project on the 19th October 2007, The OSF-SA provided The DNA Project with a development grant for R43 000 on the 3rd December 2007. This grant was our first official funding grant ever received and allowed the DNA Project to get off the ground and start fulfilling its objectives. Since that time, the OSF-SA has provided continuous assistance to our organisation by supporting the following initiatives:

• Developing our Post Graduate Honours Degree in Forensic Analysis;
• Lobbying Government to pass the DNA Act;
• Attending the Interpol DNA User’s Conference in Lyon in both 2010 and 2013;
• Producing and distributing DNA and Crime Scene Awareness Material throughout SA;
• Creating training protocols for DNA and crime scene awareness workshops;
• Hosting national DNA and Crime Scene Awareness Workshops amongst first on crime scene responders and the general public;
• Funding the operational costs of the organisation such as audit fees, support staff salaries and travel;
• Developing the website;
• Hosting a series of Legal workshops for officers of the court to ensure DNA’s optimal use in the criminal justice system;
• Registering a series of training materials and workshops with SASSETA for the DNA and crime scene awareness training protocols have developed;
• Publishing a paper for the CJI Occasional Paper Series on Forensic DNA Profiling.

May we take this opportunity to thank the OSF-SA for helping us to pursue and fulfil our stated objectives to date. Whilst our work is by no means over, their unconditional support of our organisation and the continued trust and belief they have shown in the work that we have done since 2007, has carried us through some of the most groundbreaking and challenging years we have faced in our efforts to maximise the use of DNA profiling in South Africa to help resolve crime.

with heartfelt appreciation and thanks from,

Vanessa Lynch and the rest of  The DNA Project Team.


Draft of forensic DNA regulations published for public comment

October 14th, 2014

Under Section 15AD of the South African Police Service Act, draft regulations outlining how the South African Police Service (SAPS) will be allowed to take DNA samples from suspects have been drawn up in terms of Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act of 2013 [the "DNA ACT"].

These draft regulations were published on the 9th of October 2014 in Government Gazette 38074 for public comment.

All interested parties have been invited to comment on the draft regulations within 21 days of the publication – i.e. by no later than the 30th of October 2014.

Comments must be made in writing and directed to:

Brigadier M van Rooyen
Legal Services: Governance, Policy and Legislation Management
South African Police Service

E-mail address: vanrooyenmsaps.gov.za

Fax number: (012) 393 7098

Street address:
Room No. 311
3rd Floor
Presidia Building
255 Pretorius Street
Cr. Paul Kruger and Pretorius Street
PRETORIA

To view a PDF copy of Government Gazette 38074, please click here.

To view a PDF summary of the DNA Act, please click here.

Once the submissions have been received and considered, the draft regulations will be submitted to the Minister of Police for approval.

The draft regulations focus on, inter alia:

  • The taking of a buccal sample;
  • The keeping of records in respect of collected buccal and crime scene samples;
  • Preservation and timely transfer of collected samples to the Forensic Science Laboratory;
  • Conducting of comparative searches;
  • Communication of forensic DNA findings and related information;
  • DNA examinations conducted at the Forensic Science Laboratories;
  • Request for access to information stored on the NFDD;
  • Follow-up of forensic investigative leads;
  • Destruction of buccal samples;
  • Notification of court findings;
  • Removal of forensic DNA profiles from the NFDD;
  • Protocols and training relating to familial searches;
  • Complaints to the Forensic Oversight and Ethics Board;
  • Reports;
  • Information technology infrastructure and systems; and
  • Requests for removal of DNA profiles.

Forensic Science: Myth vs Fact

October 9th, 2014

Crime Scene Investigation

Myth: A single investigator trained in forensics can collect and analyze all evidence from a crime scene.

Fact: Crime scene investigation and analysis requires a team of knowledgeable experts to collect and process evidence. Because of their training and expertise, investigators and analysts tend to specialize in a particular forensic discipline such as fingerprints, firearms or DNA analysis. The process is tedious and time‐consuming because investigators must collect all possible evidence without knowing in advance what is relevant to an investigation. In a separate step, only highly trained laboratory‐based analysts from various disciplines can conclusively examine crime scene evidence and report their findings.

Alternate Light Source (ALS)

Myth: With a blue light, investigators can detect the presence of blood at a crime scene.

Fact: While television programs often depict the use of a special light to detect blood at a crime scene, the use of Luminol alone in a dark room without special lighting allows visual detection of the presence of blood. Other bodily fluids, such as saliva and semen, become fluorescent under an ALS.

DNA Analysis

Myth: Advanced DNA analysis automatically identifies an individual within minutes.

Fact: DNA analysis takes several hours for even simple cases, although a laboratory typically takes 30 days or more to complete DNA testing. In addition, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) stores no personal data with its 7.5 million records. To confirm identity, analysts search other databases containing information about convicted offenders, unsolved crimes and missing persons at the local, state and national levels. For more information, visit www.dna.gov/dnadatabases/codis.

Drugs and Explosives Testing

Myth: A trained crime scene investigator can usually identify an unknown powder by sight, smell or taste.

Fact: Contrary to television portrayals, crime scene specialists never taste an unknown substance to determine its composition because of the danger posed by the potential presence of poisons. Instead, investigators are armed with hand‐held, portable kits to conduct preliminary, presumptive testing of unknown powders in the field. Only confirmatory analysis with sophisticated instrumentation can conclusively determine the components of a sample powder submitted as part of an investigation.

Digital Evidence

Myth: The Internet Protocol (IP) address can identify who sent an e‐mail.

Fact: An IP address is analogous to a telephone number. While both numbers are uniquely assigned, investigators can determine only the person who pays for the IP address or telephone number by using public records and the legal process. Whether tracking an IP address to a public access router or to a private home, investigators still need to use old‐fashioned police work to place a suspect “at the keyboard.”

Ballistics

Myth: You can always match a bullet with the gun that fired it.

Fact: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) maintains the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), which allows law enforcement agencies to scan and compare digital images of the firearm markings on bullets and cartridge casings. However, if a gun has been modified after firing or if the bullet is badly damaged, the bullet will no longer match the barrel and a link cannot be confirmed. Frequently, cartridge casings provide more information than the actual bullet fired.

SOURCE: National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) – www.nfstc.org

What is Forensic Toxicology?

October 2nd, 2014

The field of forensic science has come a long way – this is particularly true in the area of forensic toxicology, which is both fascinating and important for many applications. Forensic toxicology deals with the investigation of toxic substances, environmental chemicals or poisonous products. If you have ever been asked to take a drug test for work or you know someone who has, then you are already familiar with one of the applications of forensic toxicology. The toxicology part refers to the methods used to study these substances. Forensic toxicology is actually a bit of a mix of many other scientific disciplines such as chemistry, pathology and biochemistry. It also shares ties with some of the environmental sciences.

Using Forensic Toxicology Today

Forensic toxicologists perform toxicology screens, which involve looking for unusual chemicals in the body.

Currently, this area of forensics has evolved to mean the study of illegal drugs and legal ones such as alcohol. Forensic toxicology can even identify poisons and hazardous chemicals. The chemical makeup of each substance is studied and they are also identified from different sources such as urine or hair. Forensic toxicology deals with the way that substances are absorbed, distributed or eliminated in the body – the metabolism of substances. When learning about drugs and how they act in the body, forensic toxicology will study where the drug affects the body and how this occurs.

Obtaining Samples for Toxicology Testing

Before toxicology testing can go forward, samples need to be taken. You might be surprised to know just how many parts of your body can produce samples that are effective for identifying drugs. One example is urine, which is commonly used in forensic toxicology. It’s an easy sample to obtain and relatively rapid and non-invasive. It can show substances even several weeks after their ingestion. One example would be the drug marijuana, which can be detected even two weeks following use of the drug. When a urine sample is taken, however, there are sometimes rules and regulations around how the sample is collected. If the testing was related to workplace drug testing, a person could substitute a sample from someone else that would then show a negative result. For this reason, there are sometimes parameters around reasonable supervision when a person has to provide a urine sample.

Blood samples are another body sample used for forensic toxicology. A huge range of toxic substances can be tested from a blood sample. You may already be familiar with blood alcohol testing used to assess if a person was driving under the influence of alcohol. This type of testing is important in assessing if a driver is above the legal limit and it is also used to prove a case in court.

Hair samples are a good way to test for substance abuse that has occurred over the long-term. After a person ingests a chemical, it ends up in the hair, where it can provide forensic toxicologists with an estimate of the intensity and duration of drug use. Hair testing is even offered quite widely by companies that allow you to mail in a hair sample and check off the drugs you want checked. Saliva is another way that forensic toxicologists can test for drugs. It does, however, depend on the drug in terms of identifying its concentration. One of the more unusual sounding but interesting ways that the human body can be used for forensic toxicology involves the gastric contents in a deceased person. During the autopsy, a sample of the person’s gastric contents can be analysed, which then allows the forensic toxicologist to assess if the person took any pills or liquids before their death. The brain, liver and spleen can even be used during toxicology testing.

Forensic Toxicology Applications

While there are many uses for forensic toxicology testing, the most familiar one to most people is likely to be drug and alcohol testing. This type of testing is commonly performed in the transportation industry and in workplaces. Another use is for drug overdoses, whether these are intended or accidental. People who drive with a blood alcohol concentration over the accepted legal limit can also be assessed through toxicology testing. Another application of forensic toxicology relates to sexual assault that involves the use of drugs. Various drugs are used today for the purposes of rendering the victim unable to fight the attacker, who then proceeds to sexually assault the victim. Through toxicology testing, a victim can find out what drug was given and can then be treated accordingly.

There are a lot of substances and poisons in our world – many of which impact how we function in work and society. For some people, these substances can influence their death. Fortunately, forensic toxicology testing allows forensic scientists to identify substances and determine a pattern of use. In this way, a forensic toxicologist can provide closure on the ‘what if’ of a person’s drug habits or perhaps some mystery surrounding their death.

This article first appeared on Explore Forensics on the 4th of September 2014 and was authored by Ian Murnaghan – BSc (hons), MSc.

ISHI25 – International Symposium on Human Identification 2014

September 23rd, 2014

The annual International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI) conference, which is being held in Phoenix, Arizona in the US from Sept 29 – Oct 2, 2014, is an event that the DNA Project is very excited about as our founder Vanessa Lynch joins this year’s lineup of invited guest speakers.

The ISHI is an annual international conference for the DNA forensic community that provides the opportunity to learn, share and network amongst industry peers and experts.

Vanessa’s presentation on the 1st of October entitled “The DNA Project: The Crusade to Bring a National Forensic DNA Database to Fight Crime in South Africa” will include discussing the challenges in campaigning to pass the DNA Act in South Africa, some of its salient provisions and how she plans to continue to campaign for its effective implementation in conjunction with a national crime scene awareness programme driven by the DNA Project.

A map outlining the various delegates' hometowns.

Delegates from across the globe will be in attendance to listen to a wide range of topics presented by expert speakers across the 3-day conference. Topics such as:

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2

We hope to provide our followers with updates on all the happenings at the conference via Facebook and Twitter… so keep a watchful eye out!

We wish Vanessa a wonderful trip and the very best with her presentation =)

To learn more about the ISHI conference, please visit their website: http://ishinews.com/

A message from our amazing Funders: Change a Life

September 19th, 2014

Dear Change a Lifer

Every year in September, we get together for this event – great people, fantastic camaraderie, huge commitment – it is truly amazing. And then you realize that we have done this seven times and by the time we hand out the money from this tour, we will have given R25m to our project owners and their projects, and those feelings of amazement really become quite overwhelming.

It makes me extremely proud to be a small part of this – as I know it does for all of you.

In whatever capacity you contributed – as a cyclist, a sponsor, a member of the incredibly dedicated support crew – and so many of you have more than one role – it is your commitment that has made this Mystery Masquerade Tour yet another huge success for Change a Life.

This commitment is best demonstrated by the supreme efforts of the MTB team on the last day – 12 hours in the saddle – 255 Ks. Quite exceptional.

It’s the consistency of your support, however, that demonstrates the loyalty to Change a life – in whatever capacity you participate. So many of you were back again. The support crew epitomise this with many examples of dedication of which I will mention just two: Raymond Tloubatla, an ex‑Computershare employee, took leave from his new employer just to be with us and Wayne Fillis, whose only connection is that he is a friend of one of our employees, did likewise.

And when it comes to talking about loyalty and consistent commitment, what about Jonathan Scott? He gives so much of himself and his time in ensuring that we all have an exceptional experience.  He is always available and gives so much more than determining the route – he gets involved in every aspect of putting the Tour together; his knowledge and advice are absolutely invaluable.

Vanessa Lynch giving "Change a Lifers" feedback at a past event

Vanessa Lynch giving "Change a Lifers" feedback at a past event

We have now completed two-thirds of the seventh tour with the most important element – the report back – still to come. We look forward to seeing you all again at our next family gathering in about six weeks’ time when our project owners bring us up to date on the progress they have made.

On behalf of Ursula and myself, Change a Life and the Mike Thomson Change a Life Trust, our dedicated project owners and all the people whose lives they are changing – a most sincere thank you for your generous participation in the seventh Change a Life Cycle Tour and for the loyal support you all continue to give us.

We are making a difference!

Stan and Ursula

30 years of DNA fingerprinting

September 18th, 2014

Sir Alex holding a copy of the first DNA profile.

In 1984, Alec Jeffreys discovered the technique of genetic fingerprinting in a laboratory in the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester.

30 years later that discovery has proved to be not just something for human identification but ‘identification’ period.

DNA Fingerprinting and subsequently DNA Profiling has revolutionised the field of Forensic Science and also the way paternity and immigration disputes are resolved.

Fascinating interview with Prof Sir Alec Jeffreys – University of Leicester.

Change a Life Masquerade Cycle Tour 2014

September 12th, 2014

The Mike Thomson Change a Life Trust, launched by Computershare in 2008, is one of the DNA Project’s most generous sponsors which is dedicated to a peaceful future for all South Africans.

Change a Life’s primary fundraiser is an annual Change a Life Cycle Tour and the 2014 Masquerade Cycle Tour, scheduled to take place from 13 to 18 September, promises to be one of their most dramatic tours yet.

In keeping with the exclusive luxury and pampering our high profile executive cyclists have become accustomed to, the 2014 tour is designed around the fabulous Rovos Rail – rated one of the world’s top 25 trains – which will provide quality accommodation and transport between the stages.

Without giving too much away, Change a Life confirms that the four day 500 km cycle tour starting in the beautiful Western Cape will more than fulfil their participants’ expectations of an extreme challenge, while the après cycle experiences will be filled with all the drama and intrigue of a masquerade ball.

We wish all of the participants a wonderful and enjoyable ride!

Defence lawyer: Oscar may be in trouble

September 9th, 2014

Speculations and opinions run high as the days count down to the release of the #OscarTrial verdict on Thursday (11 Sept). A high profile defence lawyer reveals some of his thoughts surrounding the trial and how both the State and Oscar’s defence team handled the case. Were the various pieces of forensic evidence and expert witnesses presented handled in the best way possible?

The following article was first published by the Daily Maverick on 9 September 2014 by Rebecca Davis.

In the last few days before Oscar Pistorius hears his fate in the North Gauteng High Court, any legal eagles willing to stick their necks out with semi-definitive predictions will always be guaranteed an audience. On Monday, one of South Africa’s most high-profile defence lawyers was on hand to tell the Cape Town Press Club what he thought of the Pistorius defence team’s handling of the case. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Defence lawyer William Booth says the Pistorius case dragged on for way longer than it needed to – an idea that will likely brook no argument from trial observers or journalists.

“The trial could have taken a week,” Booth told an audience in Cape Town. “The facts are not complicated. I think they’re very simple.” He suggested that perhaps the defence and prosecution could have come to an agreement before the trial about the matters in dispute. This is the purpose of pre-trial conferences in the high courts, he pointed out: to cut out evidence and shorten the trial, since it’s one of the cornerstones of justice that the accused and the victims are entitled to a speedy trial.

In Booth’s estimation, the only truly significant witness of the trial was Pistorius himself, though he conceded that the testimony of neighbours – in terms of sights seen and sounds heard on the evening in question – was also of importance.

He had harsh words for the case presented by Pistorius’ defence team, saying that the “majority of evidence” put forward by Pistorius’ side was “a smokescreen”.

In particular, Booth expressed bemusement at the amount of time taken by Barry Roux’s side in picking apart the state’s forensic evidence and the police’s handling of the crime scene.

“If Pistorius said that he was never there, that he was out jolling, that he didn’t handle the firearm”, then the question of the precautions taken by police in managing the scene would be of significance, Booth said; but not in this case.

The defence team “dragged out a lot of irrelevant evidence” and put “poor witnesses” on the stand, Booth contended. “That has to have a negative effect on the defence case,” he said. Booth suggested that there was little justification for the amount of time taken by the defence in attempting to counter state witnesses’ evidence on aspects like ballistics.

“Red herrings are all very well, but there needs to be a reason behind the way you cross-examine witnesses,” Booth said, suggesting that Judge Thokozile Masipa might well look askance at this.

Defence witness Dr Roger Dixon – who testified on everything from the quality of light in Pistorius’ bedroom to the significance of wounds on Reeva Steenkamp’s back – came in for particular criticism from Booth, who said that he could not understand why a man whose professional training was in geology would be called to testify in this matter.

“Maybe at the Marikana Commission he might have played a vital role,” Booth said.

Forensic expert Dr David Klatzow, who was present in the audience, later chipped in to suggest that Dixon was the “worst” expert witness he had seen in his entire professional career.

Booth also criticised Roux’s defence team for failing to raise the issue of Pistorius’ state of mind “right at the beginning”. The issue of Pistorius’s potential anxiety disorder was only aired mid-way through the defence’s case, by forensic psychiatrist Dr Merryl Vorster, necessitating Pistorius’s dispatching to the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital for a month’s worth of out-patient observation.

Pistorius’ own performance on the stand came in for a slamming, with Booth asking just how prepared the athlete had been by his defence team for questioning. It would be normal, Booth said, for a client’s lawyers to sit with the accused and meticulously prepare him for cross-examination; to clarify exactly what his defence was, and to suggest questions that prosecutors will likely ask. Pistorius’ argumentative, rambling testimony did not bear the hallmarks of his kind of preparatory work, Booth suggested.

“But maybe [Pistorius] just went off on a tangent because of the type of person he is,” Booth conceded. He later clarified that he was not “blaming” the defence team for Pistorius’ poor testimony; “I think that was probably Oscar,” he said.

Booth had praise for the state’s “clever move” at last February’s bail hearing. “I don’t believe the state had any reason to oppose bail,” he said. But the state’s opposition to Pistorius’ bail meant that the defence bore the onus of persuading Magistrate Desmond Nair of why Pistorius should be released, and in the course of this it was necessary for Roux’s team to reveal a fair amount of their hand as to what their trial defence would constitute.

Another canny move on behalf of Gerrie Nel’s prosecution was to charge Pistorius with the three minor offences he faces: two counts of discharging a firearm in public, and one count of illegal possession of ammunition.

If Steenkamp had not been killed, it would have been highly unlikely for Pistorius ever to face these charges in a court, Booth said. But introducing these charges permitted Nel’s team to introduce evidence and witness testimony as to Pistorius’ possibly aggressive and negligent character which would otherwise have been inadmissible.

The lawyer expressed mixed feelings about the effects of having televised Pistorius’ trial. On the one hand, he said, the media scrum around the case led to a situation where “you lose track of what this is about: Someone has been killed, tragically. Someone is on trial for his life.” On the other, Booth said that he hoped opening up courtrooms to this kind of scrutiny would help hold the lower courts, in particular, to account. The workings of South Africa’s magistrate’s courts are often particularly opaque.

He also voiced concern about the impact of the televised trial on witness testimony in the Pistorius case. “Traditionally witnesses shouldn’t talk to each other,” he said. “What happened here is that every witness who was about to testify knew what the previous witness had said. If they hadn’t seen it on TV channels, they would have picked it up on social media.”

This is not the only worry that has been aired recently about the effects of media attention on the Pistorius witnesses. The Times reported two weeks ago that research undertaken by Karen Tewson, head of court preparation at the National Prosecuting Authority, suggested that at least one Pistorius witness was downright traumatised by her participation in the trial.

The newspaper quoted Annette Stipp – one of the neighbours on Pistorius’s estate who reported hearing screams and bangs – as telling the researcher that she and her husband felt “trampled by a bus” as a result of the experience, describing testifying as “emotional, daunting and exhausting”. Stipp added that having her testimony rubbished by Roux made her feel “attacked personally”.

But at this stage of proceedings, everyone’s attention is only really on one matter: what will Judge Masipa’s verdict be on Thursday? Speculation is virtually futile, but Booth gave it his best shot.

Addressing the question of whether Pistorius could be found guilty of premeditated murder, Booth said: “My personal feeling is that the state will struggle to convince the court of premeditation”.

Even if the court accepts Pistorius’ intruder version, however, Booth said he believed there was a “significant” chance that Pistorius “could be convicted of murdering the intruder”. He cast doubt on the idea that Judge Masipa would accept that a reasonable person in Pistorius’ position – even given the athlete’s disability and concomitant anxiety – would have fired four shots into the “minute” space of the toilet without a warning shot.

A member of the Press Club audience told Booth that if Pistorius were to appeal a conviction, he had been reliably informed that the grounds might include the claim that Pistorius was badgered by the state; and the notion that the defence did not call all the witnesses they might have wanted to because said witnesses were reluctant to testify on camera.

Booth did not express much optimism for an appeal on these grounds succeeding. “If your client is being badgered, you get up as a lawyer. You object,” Booth pointed out, saying that lawyers could not sit back while their clients were being badgered in the hope of using this in appeal. If an accused is being badgered, there is also an onus on the judge to intervene.

Booth also said that the issue of witnesses being reluctant to testify on camera was a weak one, as provision was made in Judge Dunston Mlambo’s ruling on media coverage that if a witness did not consent to recording or broadcasting, the judge could rule that “no such recording and broadcasting can take place”.

Something Booth didn’t mention, but which might also be relevant, is that one of the final conditions of Judge Mlambo’s ruling specifies:

the presiding judge shall retain a discretion to direct that, in the event that it becomes apparent that the presence of the cameras or the recording and/or transmitting and/or broadcasting is impeding a particular witness’s right to privacy, dignity and/or the accused’s right to a fair trial, [media houses] will be directed to cease recording and/or transmitting and/or broadcasting the testimony.

Given that Judge Masipa did not direct media houses to cease broadcasting at any stage, it’s reasonable to assume that she did not believe that Pistorius’ right to a fair trial was being impeded by the presence of cameras.

All this hypothesising about verdicts and potential appeals is, of course, pie in the sky until Courtroom GD of the North Gauteng High Court is called to order on Thursday.

“By now, Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa will have made up her mind,” the UK Independent wrote last weekend. “Many a legal expert in South Africa and around the world still doesn’t know which way she will turn, which is just another reason why everyone is still so transfixed, both by the trial and by her.” DM

#WomenInHealth: an interview with Senior Forensic Pathologist, Dr Linda Liebenberg

September 4th, 2014

Lodox interviews forensic pathologist Dr Linda Liebenberg as part of their #WomenInHealth series commemorating the work of South African female health-care professionals, with the aim of inspiring more young women to join the sciences and health-care professions, and was first published online by Stef Steiner on 1 September 2014.

Dr Linda Liebenberg - “This is not a day job, it’s a profession. There is always more to be done.”

Dr Liebenberg aptly describes her typical day-at-the-office as both “mad and deadly”.

Qualified with an MBChB degree in Forensic Medicine and a masters degree in Forensic Pathology, Linda has spent 14 years studying to reach her current joint appointment as Senior Forensic Pathologist at the Western Cape Department of Health and as an academic lecturer at the University of Cape Town. Dr Liebenberg gained her qualifications from the schools of Medicine at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town.

What does a typical day look like for you? What do you do in your work hours?

My work at the Department of Health is spread over service delivery: completing forensic autopsies; compiling reports for court; testifying in court; police consultation and visiting crime sites.  I teach both under-graduate and post-graduate students at the University of Cape Town, and conduct ongoing research.

What attracted you to the work you do? Why did you enter this field?

My first attraction was to Anatomical Pathology and when I stumbled into Forensic Pathology, I was hooked. Apart from medicine, it combines a large number of disciplines, as well as practical application. Through forensic pathology I have and can gain knowledge of a human before they are born, and long after their death.

Who inspires you? Who is your hero?

I am inspired by the rare case that actually works out, and being able to give a family clarity on how a family member died.

My hero is any police officer who does their job despite the challenges and who is still dedicated to their jobs 100%. Committed police work inspires me.

What was your biggest challenge to getting to where you are today in your career?

My biggest challenge was realizing the number of hours, years and the amount of money I have had to put into training. This continues to be a challenge to me as a professional.

What do you think is the biggest health challenge in Africa?

Drugs, alcohol, malnutrition, as well as a lack of both facilities and health-care professionals. Our systems cannot accommodate the current need. There is an imbalance between supply and demand. We have a reckless society characterized by road accidents and domestic violence, which takes up billions [of rands] of government money which could be used to help prevent disease and find cures.

What motivates you and keeps you going/striving for more?

I am faced with something interesting, daily, I’m never bored. I strive for getting the answers right.

Do you have any advice for young women entering a career in medicine?

You can do it!

When I started medicine, in my first year, a lot of people kept asking me what I will do in my second year.  I proved to them that I am capable!

Also, it’s important to remember that medicine is not the glamour that you see on television.

What do you do for fun or to de-stress?

I garden, read a lot and watch forensic television series like ‘Body of Proof’.

Read up more on the work of Dr Liebenberg and her colleagues at the Salt River Morgue: http://mg.co.za/article/2014-05-01-tales-from-the-morgue