I am writing this blog en route from Bloemfontein – ‘why Bloemfontein?’ you may ask. Why indeed! In the last 24 hours I have visited the Free State University, been part of the most dynamic group of people who are literally changing peoples lives in SA and twisted the ear off a Member of Parliament who assures me that our DNA Bill will be passed by March 2010!
My first stop after arriving in ‘Bloem’ at lunchtime yesterday was the Free State University, where the first Forensic Honours Degree will be launched in 2010. Myself and my co-director, Dr Carolyn Hancock, met with the Head of the Genetics Dept. as well as the Dean. Not only do they have the vision of where the future of DNA Forensic lies in this country, but they have the
Students at work at the UFS Genetics Dept.
passion with which to do it. The Dean asked not only what they can do to provide the first set of students with all that they need to become the first and best group of students to obtain this Honours degree, but more importantly, what can they do to ensure that one day they have an entire building that hosts a variety of forensic specialities which will become the centre of excellence in SA for this type of training. This is one of the many reasons we support the UFS in their bid to host this degree – their passion, their commitment and their vision. The DNA Project’s efforts to ensure that the placement of millions of rands worth of forensic analyst equipment will be installed at the first institution offering this degree, for use by the students next year, will accordingly be extended to the UFS. The DNA Project will also assist with funding a lecturer position at the UFS for one year to ensure the maximum intake of students . The course material the DNA Project have funded will be given at no charge to the UFS (and any other institution wishing to offer this degree), for use in their Honours course and the P.U.B. (see www.pub.org.za - a division of the Dept. of Science & Technology) have offered to launch this new and exciting degree next year. Applications for entry into this degree close on the 9 October, so if this is something you have always wanted to do, now is your chance — but be warned, they are only taking the top students, as already the course is over-scribed…[email Prof. Spies for further details SpiesJJ.SCI@ufs.ac.za ]
CEO of Computershare, Stan Lorge, thanking the Change a Life Cycle support team
Carolyn and myself left the UFS feeling buoyant. All the hard work that has been put into developing this degree and all the trust put into us by our sponsors, has been converted into a tangible reality. We will be seeing the first specialist forensic analysts graduating at the end of 2010, and we know, that this is only the beginning…
From the UFS we headed off to welcome back the cyclists who had just completed the 2009 Change a Life Cycle “Mystery Tour”. This group of cyclists, led by its one in a million, tour director, Ursula du Plooy arrived en masse with all their support staff, and of course, the most humble of men, Computershare CEO, Stan Lorge. Stan calls himself the ‘hanger on’. But in fact the truth is that this man is the hope to which we all hang! Stan, together with Ursula, have succeeded in changing the lives of so many through their commitment to the Change a Life Trust, which makes my passion to the DNA Project look feeble. The camaraderie that was apparent at the Gala Dinner held last night was palpable; the energy was extreme. Coupled with an extravaganza of an evening, hosted by Southern Sun, which had the likes of PJ Powers lighting up the stage with old classics such as Shosholoza, and Barry Hilton cracking up the audience, it was an honour and privilege to be part of such an exceptional group of people. At dinner, I sat next to Paul Conn who is the president of the Computershare Global Capital Markets Group, and is based in New York. Paul had just ridden the cycle race. It was his first time visit to SA, and despite his extensive travels throughout the world, he was delighted to be in Bloemfontein and part of this tour. His generosity to the Change a Life Trust has been extraordinary, and to boot, he purchased the 11 remaining raffle tickets on the night, at R500 a piece without a second thought. Paul kindly offered me one of those raffle tickets to gain free entry into the Cycle Race next year, which sadly I didn’t win! I will have to start looking for a willing sponsor, so that next year, I too can take part in the race and not just welcome the brave home!
Stan Lorge & Ursula du Plooy with Miss SA, Tatum Keshwar at the Change a Life Gala Dinner held in Bloemfontein last night
I think the words of Russell Loubser, CEO of JSE were particularly moving — he struck a cord deep within us all and reminded us all to stay close to the reason we all partake in one way or another in the Change a Life Cycle race — he challenged us all to make this an event that will last for another 20 years and that we all stay committed to the reason that we want to be a part of this life changing annual event. From my side, my gratitude towards the sponsors of this race is difficult to put into words. The support the DNA Project receives from the Change a Life Trust is overwhelming. We take this responsibility very seriously and hope that all the cyclists and their support team recognise that the DNA Project’s objectives are being achieved as a result of every turn of the wheel they generate.
Vanessa Lynch, PJ Powers & Carolyn Hancock at the Change a Life Cycle Gala Dinner
Looking back to this time last year, we have managed to assist with the draftimg of new DNA legislation, have it introduced into Parliament where it is currently being reviewed, produce a DNA awareness training DVD to educate first on crime scene responding officers, security guards and paramedics on how to preserve and contain critical DNA evidence and develop the course material for the first in Africa, let alone SA, Forensic Honours Degree. Next year, we not only hope to have the legislation in place, but would like to see it being implemented and to be able to stand in front of all of you and show you the profiles of the first convicted offenders’ dna profiles on the National DNA Database…
To end off my whirlwind 24 hours in Bloemfontein, I sat down in the aeroplane to return to Cape Town this morning, and happened to be sitting next to Portfolio Committee Chairperson, Ms Maggie Sotyu! Ms Sotyu was the Chair of the previous ad hoc Portfolio Committee tasked with reviewing the DNA Bill in the first quarter of 2009. That ad hoc Committee has now been replaced by a new Committee following the April 2009 elections and newly elected MP’s, but I succeeded in twisting Ms Sotyu’s ear for the better part of the flight and the good news is that she is confident that the DNA Bill has been given priority and she sees it being finalised between now and the close of Parliament in March 2010. More importantly, the issues that were raised n the last review process, she feels have been for the most part addressed and she believes that the next review will not be as complicated as the last. I take this chance meeting as a good sign and an indication that whilst we still have a huge amount of work to do, we have in fact come quite far together in our race — which is the race against crime in SA. If the passion I witnessed last night, continues to burn, I know that together, we can do this and take back from the small minority in this country, what is rightfully ours — our right to feel free & safe in our own country.
The safety belt lights have come on, and we are ready to land. Cape Town may be the Mother City, but Bloemfontein is where it’s at!