Response to “Police forensics blow own horn”

The following article was published in The Times yesterday. I was disappointed by the negative comments in the article, as my experience at the 1st National Forensic Science Conference, to which I was invited to make a presentation, had been so positive. I invite you to read the article along with a response I have submitted to the publication.

– Carolyn –

Police forensics blow own horn

Jul 3, 2013 | AARTI NARSEE

South Africa’s forensic services are up there with the best in the world, the police have said.

Police forensics blow own horn

Researcher runs tests in a lab | Image by: Schalk van Zuydam (Times LIVE)

Major-General Adeline Shezi, head of quality management for forensic services, said this country’s forensic services “are one of the top five in the world”.

She was speaking at the first national forensic services conference, in Pretoria yesterday.

The conference is aimed at dispelling myths about forensics, discussing successes and problems in fighting crime, and learning about the latest technology in this “evolving environment”.

Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane said that the more proficient forensic services became the more conviction rates would improve.

The police’s forensic services division is staffed by 7146 members working in three areas: criminal records and crime scene investigations, forensic science laboratory work and quality management.

Shezi said that in the past three years there had been “great improvements” in the work of the forensic services division, including in the processing of cases.

Whereas previously cases took 68 days to process, forensics now delivers data in 28 days, she said.

Though the police claim a vast improvement in the provision of forensic services, not everyone is convinced.

Dr David Klatzow, a private consulting forensic scientist, said: “Our forensic services are a disaster. There is political interference in laboratories and shoddy work done by under-qualified people”.

Klatzow said that the police’s forensic services were “far from the quality” of those in countries such as Germany, France, the US and the UK.

“We need to improve on education and training. In the work that I am doing, I do not see any high calibre in forensic work,” he said.

Phahlane admitted that there were problems in prosecuting cases but blamed investigating officers, not forensic services.

Using the example of ballistics reports, which he said were one of the quickest types of report to produce, he said: “The problem lies with the individual detectives.”

The importance of forensic evidence was recently highlighted in the case of Philisiwe Dlamini, who spent five years in prison for the murder of her husband.

But a ballistics report recently revealed that her husband had committed suicide.

Phahlane said that it was due to the police’s forensic services that Dlamini’s husband’s suicide was confirmed.


As a director of a non profit NGO, The DNA Project, that has been working closely with the Forensic Science Laboratory for a number of years, I would like to comment on the article published yesterday entitled “Police Forensics Blow own Horn”.

I was invited to make a presentation at the First National Forensic Services Conference in Pretoria yesterday and was extremely impressed at the professional and efficient manner in which the conference was being run. More importantly the program consisted of excellent presentations in all areas of forensics, by members of SAPS Forensic Services Divisions, an international expert in forensics from the USA, research institutes, private companies providing state of the art equipment to forensic laboratories, as well as leading academics from Universities such as Free State, Cape Town and Pretoria which offer undergraduate and postgraduate training in forensics. Unfortunately I was only able to attend the conference for one day but during that time I listened to speakers discussing a number of criminal case studies which the Forensic Science Laboratories have been able to solve – none of which would have been possible without their having access to the latest and most up-to-date technology in the world, along with highly qualified and dedicated forensic analysts. I am thus astonished at Dr. Klatzow’s comments that “our forensic services are a disaster”. Whilst there is clearly not resolution to all cases under investigation in South Africa due to challenges on a number of levels, credit must be given to Lieutenant- General Phahlane and his team for the dedication they continue to show to improve levels of efficiency at the laboratories whilst keeping up with the latest technological advances in this rapidly evolving field.

In terms of Dr. Klatow’s comments regarding education and training one has to wonder whether he has taken the time to visit the Universities and Institutions which are working closely with the State Forensic Science Services, to educate forensic analysts and crime scene examiners. Numerous programs are being instituted at leading tertiary institutions and training is offered not only to school leavers and graduates wanting to study forensics, but also to analysts currently in the employ of the Forensic Science Laboratories. In addition, training is being offered free of charge by the The DNA Project to all who may be the first at a crime scene such as first responding officers, security guards, CPF’s and paramedics. This training stresses the importance of forensic evidence, particularly DNA, in crime detection and resolution as well as the importance of crime scene preservation. This training is supported by the Forensic Science Laboratory as it is imperative that we ALL pay a part in ensuring that all investigative leads in criminal cases can be followed and that offenders are held accountable for their actions. Leveling criticism against the state laboratories and crime scene investigators is not constructive. Rather, South African’s from all walks of life should be working together to assist in the fight against crime in this country.

As I think the South African public should be aware of the positive developments that are being made in this country to combat crime, I do hope you will publish my comments on this article.

2 Responses to “Response to “Police forensics blow own horn””

  1. HJ Henning says:

    We want to suggest that all babies born , with parents consent , DNA be Databased and all persons who want to volunteer ,DNA also be Databased. Place advertisements in the newspapers and on the internet how this can be achieved.

    • Sam says:

      I definitely support that suggestion. The only real way to ensure absolute ethical usage of the database is to type all persons.
      The Bill must allow for payment for private labs to type volunteer samples and submit DNA profile results to the National DNA database.