South Africa Continues Work on Database Implementation

The following abstract appeared in the latest Quarterly Forensic DNAResource Report
January 2012 For more information see

South Africa Continues Work on Database Implementation

Universally, one of the most difficult problems faced when integrating DNA databasing technology into any criminal justice system is finding adequate resources and laboratory capacity.    Even when attempts are made through the legislative process to anticipate the laboratory needs created by an effective database, few countries possess the infrastructure to immediately maximize the crime solving potential of DNA. South Africa is a notable exception. If South Africa manages to pass legislation this year establishing an offender DNA database, the South African Police Service (SAPS) will be ready with an automated laboratory system they have been developing for years.

Since 2002, SAPS has maintained an automated system for DNA analysis that is one of the most advanced in the world. However, the lack of legislation establishing an offender database has prevented South Africa from reaping the full benefits of a laboratory system envied by many other countries. With crime statistics showing South Africa to be one of the most sexually violent places on the planet, the SAPS laboratory has both the capacity and technical sophistication to hit back hard. But absent the legislation, tremendous potential goes unrealized.

According to the United Nations, South Africa ranks second for murder and first for assaults and rapes per capita. An average of fifty two people is murdered every day there and the number of rapes reported in a year is around 55,000. It is estimated that 500,000 rapes are actually committed annually in South Africa. In a 2009 survey, one in four South African men admitted to raping someone. Even more insidious, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of child and infant rape in the world. It is a country where it is believed that intercourse with a virgin will cure or prevent HIV/AIDS and where child rape is used as a method of retaliation against another for a perceived wrong. Children are murdered and body parts used for “traditional” medicinal remedies. And in a country also cursed with epidemic rates of HIV/Aids, rape takes on an exponentially tragic dimension.

However, after ten years, it appears as though the South African Parliament is poised to pass legislation in the next year which will unleash the power of DNA and stem the tide of sexual violence. Having taken a study trip abroad to the United Kingdom and Canada this summer, the Portfolio Committee responsible for developing the legislation has fulfilled one of its announced requirements before recommending the legislation to Parliament. They have also received significant input from victim advocates such as Vanessa Lynch, Executive Director of the DNA Project as well as testimony from Chris Asplen of Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs. Significant radio and television attention has also helped drive the Committee to forward the legislation to the full Parliament.

When passed, the South African DNA database legislation will create an investigative tool that, if properly implemented, could not only begin saving lives immediately by removing serial rapists and murders from the streets, but will also serve as a model for neighboring countries and ultimately all of Africa.

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