Lawyers for a gang of nine alleged rapists are hoping to get their clients off the hook by quashing the DNA evidence against them on the basis that the police forensic lab that processed it – the biggest in the country – is not properly certified with the South African National Accreditation System (Sanas).
Arguments in the case against Thomas Tivane, Makamu Mapedje, Alex Mabuya, Boavida Chilengue, Cito Vicente Maguele, Jordan Marcmiano Bila, Antonio Joao Timbe, George Mabunda and Jeremias Alberto Sithole were heard in the High Court in Johannesburg yesterday.
The men are accused of a raft of rapes and robberies that terrorised the community of Tshepisong, Kagiso, for nine months from late 2015 to mid 2016.
In one of the cases in connection with which the men are charged, a 50-year-old woman was attacked on her way home, raped repeatedly and beaten so badly that she died two months later as a result of her injuries.
Their lawyers have accused the police of tampering with the DNA evidence that links the men to the crimes, in a bid to frame them. They argued yesterday that it could not be trusted, primarily because the lab which it was sent to for testing is not accredited with Sanas.
Problems at forensics labs have plagued the police for years.
In 2017, KwaZulu-Natal was hit by heavy floods, rendering the lab servicing that province, in Amanzimtoti, non-operational.
There are currently only two functioning police labs – one in Pretoria and one in Cape Town – to service the entire country.
Issues around the labs not being accredited have made the headlines before. In 2015, the Democratic Alliance’s Wilmot James slammed the situation and was quoted as saying: “Accreditation is required, something to confirm these laboratory practices are being upheld. It doesn’t necessarily mean the work is faulty, but it does mean that the court must simply throw it out because it doesn’t have accreditation.”
Yesterday, advocate Martin Mafojane – acting for Chilengue, Maguele, Bila and Timbe – said: “The guidelines Sanas talks about are the safeguards we rely on.”
He argued that the court could not conclusively determine the validity of DNA evidence processed by a lab without Sanas accreditation.
“We don’t know how they function. We don’t know what they did with the evidence. It’s a complete mystery,” he said.
And advocate Leonard Cindi – acting for Tivane, Mapedje, Mabuya, Mabunda and Sithole – echoed his colleague’s sentiments.
The state is standing by its evidence. State advocate Lwazi Ngodwana, in his heads of argument, labelled the DNA evidence “literally flawless”.
“And any attack on this evidence is in vain,” he said. “The accused’s version – that the DNA is a creation of Captain Vuma, to falsely implicate them – should be rejected as highly improbable and not reasonably possibly true.”
The court is expected to hand down judgment in the case later this month. Until then, the accused remain in custody.
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