The best Valentine’s Day Invite

A strange topic you may think? Especially, if like me, you are not a fan of Valentine’s Day and all that it encompasses. However, having just landed in Cape Town from a trip to JHB last week, I received a call from General Phahlane, the Divisional Commissioner of the Forensic Lab, requesting that I please come and present at a Strategic Planning and Management Session in Mpumalanga on Monday, 14 Feb 2011. Now you can understand why it was the best Valentine’s Day invitation I have ever received!

Gen Phahlane & Col. Lindie Traut from the FSL with Willie Scholtz from the CJS

The purpose of the work session was to review the progress made with revamping the CJS and to plan the way forward with regard to the CJS within the FSL for the 2011/2012 fiscal Year. The work session formed part of the ongoing strategic planning processes currently underway in the Forensic Science Division, which is being spearheaded by its new head, Gen. Phahlane. My brief was to present to the Planning Team, The DNA Project’s overview of where we believe funds allocated to the FSL by the CJSR (Criminal Justice System Review – which you will recall was given R3bn over 3yrs) would be best spent in the forthcoming fiscal year, with a view to expanding the National DNA Database.  What a brief! The Planning Team consisted not only of the Divisional Head of the FSL, but the head of the FSL and the LCRC and all of its top management staff. It was an honour to be invited to be part of this Session and an opportunity finally to be able to present all of our hard work and research over the last few years to such a focused group of people. In addition, the new management team of the FSL are one of the most hard working and dynamic group of people I have come across and they view the work of The DNA Project as an integral part of the review process, as opposed to an opposition group with a hidden agenda. For the first time in many years, Carolyn (who accompanied me to the session) and I felt that the tides had changed insofar as the FSL recognising the critical role it plays in the resolution of crime in South Africa.

The hour long presentation I gave was received with enthusiasm and most importantly, support. In a nutshell, The DNA Project believe the 3 key areas which need to be addressed are (1) Legislation (2) Capacity and (3) Awareness. The below slide, which come out of my presentation, captures the “How” we believe this can be achieved in SA:

Re: Legislation – despite the PC dragging their heels and insisting on embarking upon their overseas trip, the FSL are two steps ahead and have already implemented extensive strategies to increase their capacity by commencing on the building of two more National Labs in KZN and the Eastern cape – by de-centralising the Pretroia Lab, it will mean that provincial cases do not clog up the Pretoria process lines and obviously will result in an increase in samples loaded. Hand in hand with this development, they believe fully in training and awareness at the crime scene. As such, we have their support in promoting the Forensic Hons degree they have helped us develop and they will be participating in lectures at the tertiary institutions offering this course. As the FSL capacity increases, they envisage employing at least another 750 analysts and as such, the more skilled analysts they can employ the better. These strategies will ensure that the FSL’s implementation plan which they will need to prepare for Parliament, will have substance and vision, two elements key to the successful execution of the DNA Bill, when passed.

But mot importantly, where The DNAP and the FSL can work together in the most critical way, is through awareness at the crime scene – I spoke of a chain being as strong as its weakest link – and this means that with all of the above strategies in place, all will fail if we cannot collect the DNA evidence left at the crime scene by the perpetrator/s. We only have one chance to do this, and this is where the public/private partnership comes into play. If we can continue to create DNA Awareness and the importance of crime scene preservation amongst the general public and sectors of the community such as within private security companies, paramedics, trauma centres, justice and schools, then they can implement training and awareness amongst Crime Scene Examiners and first responding police officers.

This leads me to my final point which is that the expansion of the National DNA Database in South Africa, and its use as a crime intelligence tool (i.e. investigations driven by DNA, rather than DNA being considered simply a piece of evidence) requires the interplay between Justice, SAPS and the FSL and….the public – which is us, The DNA Project and YOU!

All of the above points made sense to the Planning Team and even more encouraging is that they were excited about some of the ideas I presented. We left the following day with renewed hope and energy and trust in our hearts, that the new management team are going to get it right and not just right, but they are willing and able to take DNA and its potential as an evidentiary tool, to a new level in SA. The Planning Session continued over the next couple of days, and we look forward to hearing how the 2011/2012 fiscal year is going to unfold. I have no doubt that it will be a space worth watching out for….

It was indeed a “Happy Valentine’s Day” – let’s hope in this case, all our dreams come true!


One Response to “The best Valentine’s Day Invite”

  1. Di Thomson says:

    Dear vanessa,
    This is indeed good news. Well done for all your efforts. I hope and pray that you will contiue on your mission and that the Mike Thomson trust will contiue to grow and give you the support and funding you need.

    Our Barnyard function has been postponed to the 2nd October as Vivian had to have a knee op and would not be strong enough to dance by APril.

    All the best,