There are numerous reports over the last decade about the parlous state of our forensic services including inadequate substandard toxicology laboratories. Yet, government does nothing, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
The anguish of the mothers of the two toddlers who
died of suspected poisoning at an unregistered crèche facility in Gauteng
should rouse us into action to protect our children better and ensure justice
for those wronged.
It is shocking that these mothers are expected to wait
for up to 5-6 years before getting the toxicology test results to confirm the
nature of the poisoning. How can we as a society tolerate this inordinate delay
in ensuring that justice is not only done but seen to be done for these mothers?
How do we expect these mothers to find closure in such
circumstances? The combination of the unspeakable pain of sudden death of one’s
child and a non-responsive system of justice is too much to expect any mother
to live with.
There are numerous reports, including the Auditor
General reports to Parliament over the last decade, about the parlous state of
our forensic services including inadequate substandard toxicology laboratories.
Why is our government failing the most vulnerable
people in our society in a country with such high levels of crime? Our Constitution
is very clear about the obligation of the state to ensure that the fundamental
principle of equality under the law for all citizens is observed at all times.
It is unjust that citizens with the private means to
hire private forensic services are able to find closure when faced with
inexplicable deaths, but poor people have to carry the burden of open wounds
How does the Department of Health explain the failure
to turn around our Forensic Services despite promises made by then minister
Aaron Motsoaledi in 2009 following the damning Auditor General’s reports
presented to Parliament?
The major problems identified then that persist to
date include poor physical and technical infrastructure; unaccredited
laboratories in three of the four areas with Cape Town as the exception; staff
shortages and low morale; overall inadequate management and red tape from the department.
Five years later in 2014, in response to a parliamentary
question, the following horrific statistics about the status in October 2013
were revealed: 17 017 unprocessed toxicology samples; 34 185 unprocessed blood
alcohol samples; 1 546 alcohol unprocessed post-mortem samples. Parliament has
over the years failed to hold the executive accountable to ensure that these
issues are addressed to secure justice for all citizens without inordinate
There is an urgent need for the president to intervene
and demand action by all responsible actors to secure the rights of citizens to
justice and to restore trust in the system. Justice delayed is justice denied.
The extent of the crisis is such that the president
should consider mobilising a “thuma mina” campaign to address this
critical success factor in our criminal justice system. The following actors
should be considered:
The private sector laboratories that
could be harnessed to collaborate on an emergency basis to clear the backlog of
Our global development partners to help
us design and develop a more effective system to strengthen our physical and
technical infrastructure to meet accreditation standards.
Recruit and train unemployed BSc
graduates in private and development partner institutions to strengthen the
quality and quantities of technicians. Recruitment of retired experts would help provide mentorship and
coaching to new recruits. We have enough talent in our youthful population, all
we need is a smart plan to develop and utilise it appropriately.
Create credible programs at higher
education institutions to ensure a strong pipeline of technical expertise to
keep our forensic systems running at high levels of accredited standards. We
need to elevate the status and visibility of forensic services as career
Appointment of leadership and management
capabilities to ensure that essential public services such as forensics are
kept running at high enough levels of excellence to regain public trust and
motivate the dedicated people in this essential service.
We cannot continue to ignore the pain of the most
vulnerable citizens in our midst whilst we pursue political and personal
agendas that are displacing the focus on essential services. The loss of these
two toddlers should rouse us to refocus our attention on essential services
that affect the poorest the most.
The quality of our democracy will always be judged by
the level of attention we pay to what matters most in the lives of the least
– Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.
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