Envisioning the future of DNA in SA – someone has to do it!

We all know that DNA technologies have radically reshaped the role of forensics in police work throughout the world – well, that is everywhere perhaps but here in SA, where we unarguably need it the most. Even small amounts of blood, saliva, or other biological materials left at a crime scene can now lead to the identification or elimination of a suspect. Genetic evidence is being used both to convict perpetrators and to exonerate people who were wrongfully convicted on less reliable evidence, including scores of people on death row in the USA. We all know this. It is a fact. It is the future of successful police work, and that is why I am not ready nor willing to take off my gloves in our fight to make our Government recognise this all important fact.

Every now and again, I wake up and think – what is the point? All those nay-sayers who previously told me and still tell me – you will never get anywhere with our Government would love to prove me wrong and say, ‘I told you so’…  But the point is, this is inevitable – just as the cell phone has become an indispensable instrument in every SA’s life, so too will the power of DNA and its use in resolving crime, become an indispensable tool in SA’s fight against crime. So when I heard this week that the Portfolio Committee have yet again postponed their overseas tour of the UK and Canada to , and I quote, “our winter”, ie July 2011, my initial reaction was despondency – but then I realised that they are simply delaying the inevitable – whilst they manipulate dates to ensure that their overseas trip at least falls within the European and Canadian summer (a much more pleasant time to journey, you will agree), we need to ensure that all the groundwork must continue to ensure that once that legislation is in place, we are ready for it:

1. DNA AWARENESS – this is critical, because unless we are aware that DNA is all prevalent on a crime scene, that crucial evidence will be lost, and of no further use. This applies to every officer, (be it police or security guard) paramedic or member of the public and as such, we will continue to embark upon our National DNA Awareness Campaign which offers free workshops to all these sectors as well as schools, community centres and trauma centres. The more people who know about the power of DNA, how to preserve it and how it can be used to link serial offenders to their crimes and ultimately prosecute them, the better.

2. DNA CAPACITY – we need to support our Forensic Labs, as the new legislation, when passed, will require a large amount of samples to be processed if our DNA Database is to be used as an intelligent database. To this end, more Universities need to take up our offer of hosting a Forensic DNA course at their institution (we have developed a Forensic Hons course which we provide to Universities free of charge), so that we have more qualified Forensic Analysts entering the labs. We also need to support the idea of allowing private DNA labs to assist the state forensic labs, certainly in the beginning, to process more samples to enter onto the DNA Database. This is an accepted practice all over the world, and in a country which is plagued by backlogs, there is no reason not to implement this system in SA.

3. GENETIC JUSTICE & THE LAW! – without proper legislation in place, convicted offenders remain free to leave prison without having had their DNA profile entered onto the DNA Database; the current DNA Database remains unregulated due to inadequate and outdated legislation attempting to define this area of the law; serial rapists and murderers remain at large and undetected because our Database cannot be utilised as an intelligent Database without proper legislation allowing it to be used as such. We need to put pressure on the Portfolio Committee to get a move on and review the DNA Bill, because one more delay will render their stated intentions to pass the Bill untruthful, without substance and against the will of the SA people.

Our plan for 2011 therefore is to rigourously promote DNA Awareness in the first part of the year. To this end we have a media plan and funding to help us spread this crucial awareness (remember DNA CSI!?) on a national basis. When the PC return from their overseas trip, ready, we trust to finally concentrate on actually reviewing the legislation, we hope that there will be a groundswell of South African’s fully aware of why DNA and its use in Forensics needs to form part of this country’s crime fighting strategy.

Let us know if you want us to host a free DNA Awareness workshop or lecture at your organisation, school, community centre, trauma centre or security company – simply email Maya at maya@dnaproject.co.za or call (021) 418-0647.

with thanks


One Response to “Envisioning the future of DNA in SA – someone has to do it!”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dna csi, Alondra Nelson. Alondra Nelson said: Promoting #forensic genetics in South Africa http://bit.ly/fahpAw http://bit.ly/gYes7M & http://bit.ly/h4lSx3 via @DNADetective #CSIeffect […]