Meeting the new General of the FSL

I was in Johannesburg and Pretoria today where I met with two very interesting and influential people – one government, one private.

The first, General Phahlane, is the newly appointed head of the Forensic Science Lab [which, remember, consists of 6 different forensic divisions, only one of which is Biology (DNA)]. The General has taken over from the former Div. Commissioner, Piet du Toit and has a very different managerial style to his predecessor. For one, he promotes opens lines of communications, and whilst I sense that he is definitely not a man to be crossed, he encourages support and input so long as it is constructive. The General acknowledges that the current system is far from perfect, however, he is tackling the issues head on and apparently, transparently, and from all accounts runs a very tight ship too. His random appearance within the lab at any given time, certainly ensures that the people working there are on the ball at all times, and I believe this approach has enabled him to boast substantial inroads into the DNA backlog,  that is constantly being raised as an issue. The General believes that NGO’s have a critical role to play in making fundamental changes in SA – more importantly, he supports our objectives and has a particular interest in the DNA Awareness campaign we have embarked upon throughout South Africa as he too understands how vital a part the preservation of crime scene evidence plays. His passion to eradicate crime  in SA is palpable, and I truly look forward to watching the changes I believe he is going to make in developing a strategy to expand the DNA Database in SA. It is abundantly clear that he comprehends and embraces the significant role a criminal intelligence database plays in SA as opposed to simply a DNA Database, and that more profiles = a more powerful database for crime detection and resolution, but ultimately prevention.

Vanessa Lynch with General Phahlane and Colonel Shezi at the Pretoria FSL

Vanessa Lynch with General Phahlane and Colonel Shezi at the Pretoria FSL

I was also greatly relieved to hear that Colonel Shezi, who attended the meeting, will be accompanying the Portfolio Committee on their overseas study tour to the UK and Canada next year. The General confirmed that at least her trip had been approved, so I am assuming from that information, that the remainder of the Committee members must too have a final agenda. This reinforces the statement made by MP, Annelize van Wyk on SABC1 (“It’s your Right”) last week, that the tour has been scheduled for late January 2011 and that deliberations on the DNA Bill would commence in February on their return; and… that she anticipated that it would be finalised by mid 2011. We won’t of course be holding our breath that they will stick to those timelines, as reviewing legislation is not a cut and dry affair, BUT, at least it is finally being publicly spoken about and is now openly on the agenda.

The other person I met was the CEO of the Security Industry Alliance. The concept of introducing DNA Awareness Training as an industry standard amongst all private security personnel was discussed. In other words, we host “Train the Trainer” workshops so that all security companies are enabled to incorporate DNA Awareness Training as part of their standard crime scene management training. I am putting together a proposal this week which will formulate a plan to incorporate this type of awareness from the top down. This is very exciting, as it may well mean, that DNA Awareness becomes part and parcel of all first responding officers’ training — again, it underlies the objective we are very passionate about — and that is that you only have a limited opportunity to preserve crime scene evidence, without which all the laws in the land and fancy labs are rendered meaningless.

Let’s hope that our simple acronym DNA CSI becomes as well known in SA as Coca Cola!


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