• Plants can play a vital role in linking individuals to crime scenes: from the leaves we step on to the pollen that stick to our clothes. If you are curious about the secret language of plants and the link to crime scenes, be sure to read the article about Forensic Botany published in Servamus: September 2020.

  • Forensics is a fascinating science with a variety of subdisciplines that are used to link an individual to a crime scene. In an article published in Servamus: September 2020, we highlight some of the lesser known forensic disciplines.

  • Wildlife crime can be fought by using forensics, such as in poaching incidents where forensics is used to link seized rhino horn or ivory to a crime scene. If you want to read about the development of wildlife forensics, be sure to read the article in Servamus: September 2020.

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By Kotie Geldenhuys

On the first day of Autumn 2020 and during the writing of this article, eight-year-old Tazne van Wyk, was laid to rest. As the Minister of Police, Mr Bheki Cele, addressed the mourners at her funeral, he admitted that the Criminal Justice System had failed the young murder victim. On 7 February 2020, Tazne disappeared without a trace near her home in Elsies River, and almost two weeks later her body was found in a storm water drain near the N1 outside Worcester.

The man who had allegedly abducted and murdered this young victim had been incarcerated for another child murder but after serving ten years, he was released on parole in October 2016. A day before Tazne's disappearance, the Department of Correctional Services declared the man an absconder, after they were unsuccessful in trying to track him down in the Southern Cape. His criminal record goes as far back as 1981 and includes convictions for culpable homicide, vehicle theft, theft, assault, child neglect and housebreaking (Jansen, 2020). It is mind-boggling to think that someone with such a criminal record can be released on parole and is a clear example of how the Criminal Justice System fails the victims (and survivors) of crime in our country … and in fact, also the broader community from which their following victims my come.

The Criminal Justice System (CJS) refers to all of the agencies whose aim it is to control crime. In the South African context, the CJS has six main role-players:

  • The South African Police Service (SAPS) is responsible for preventing, combating and investigating crime, and arresting suspected offenders.
  • The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has to decide whether or not to prosecute someone who is suspected of having committed an offence.
  • The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development provides accessible and quality justice for all.
  • The presiding officer, namely the magistrate or judge who hears the case, and the judiciary (the courts), have to decide whether the accused is innocent or guilty after having heard evidence. They also have to decide on an appropriate sentence when someone has been found guilty.
  • The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has to ensure that sentences are carried out. They also have the responsibility to attempt to rehabilitate the convicted offenders in their care.
  • The probation officer and/or social worker provides social services to the poor and to vulnerable people. They work with victims of crime, families and communities. Probation officers are appointed by the Minister of Social Development and are officers of every magistrate's court (www.gov.za/faq/justice and crime prevention/how does criminal justice system work).

When a suspect has been arrested for an offence, the community expects the swift and successful prosecution of that offender. In addition, the community expects that this offender must be incarcerated after the conclusion of the court trial. The community therefore believes that when an offender has been sentenced to incarceration, the interests of justice have been served.

The SAPS fail to fulfil their role
The SAPS is often regarded as the first role-player in the CJS since this is where both offenders and victims enter the system. The SAPS is the national law enforcement agency whose mandate it is to ensure the safety and security of the South African community (SAPS, 2014). There are many incidents where uniformed members, working in the Community Service Centre (CSC) and those patrolling the streets fail victims by not responding to crime or not wanting to open cases. If they do not open cases or respond to crime as they should, these incidents can neither be investigated nor prosecuted to ensure that justice is served.

Case examples
Once a criminal case has been opened, the SAPS investigating officers or detectives are tasked to investigate the case and bring the offenders to book. Mediocre investigation of crime and the subsequent acquittal of offenders may have a negative effect on the already fragile relationship between the police and the community. Haphazard investigations and negligence result in a large number of cases being closed without being investigated properly. Some cases make it to court, but sloppy police work place successful prosecutions at stake. One case that comes to mind is that of 22-year-old Maties student, Inge Lotz. In his biography, Steeped in blood - the life and times of a forensic scientist, Dr David Klatzow, describes the Inge Lotz case as “one of the worst police investigations ever to take place in South Africa, leaving her killer roaming free” (Thamm, 2014). During the trial, which lasted ten months, every detail of the State’s case was subjected to an intense attack by a team of the world’s leading forensic investigators and in the end, Judge Deon van Zyl found that the murder accused, Fred van der Vyver, who was Inge’s boyfriend at the time, could not have murdered her, that he did not murder her and that the evidence was so weak that the case really should never have been brought to court. The Judge however refused to find that the police had fabricated the evidence, generously leaving open the possibility that this was a case of “negligence” and “utter incompetence” (Altbeker, 2011). Despite a string of frustrating court cases, authorities have still not given the Lotz family closure.

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[This is only an extract of an article published in Servamus: April 2020 from pp 30-36. The rest of the article continues to discuss role of the investigator; the role of the NPA including factors that impact negatively on prosecutions as well as the role of the prosecutor; the role of the judiciary and consequences of judicial incompetence; and the role of the Dept of Correctional Services and issues with parole. If you are interested in reading the rest of this comprehensive article, send an e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to find out how. Ed.]

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Servamus - September 2020

When crimes are committed, the first thing criminals want to do is to get rid of the evidence that would link them to that crime.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
When Albert du Preez Myburgh abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered his close friend's eight-year-old daughter in May 1999, he did not realise that bugs would play a role in his conviction and sentence.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
When Sinja Robin Mabitsela and Josias Xaniseka Mkansi (also known as the Alexandra Balaclava serial rapists) started their raping spree, they did not realise that their DNA would be their downfall.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
Imagine how challenging it must be for scientists to identify a victim when only skeleton remains are available… now imagine how much bigger this challenge becomes for forensic anthropologists when only burnt skeleton remains are available and they have to identify these bones.
By Kotie Geldenhuys

Pollex - September 2020

In Servamus: July 2020, Pollex published a legal quiz regarding the current/recent state of disaster. Please refer to that issue for the questions.

Letters - September 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic which has affected many and claimed the lives of so many, is still continuing to be a global threat for which there is no cure.
Const Kwayo Louw (23), a policeman from Kraaifontein, was recently commended by the Western Cape Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz for his exemplary contribution towards his community in Kraaifontein.
Retired W/O Sham Singh, the first Indian Station Commander of Lenasia, celebrated his 80th birthday on 9 July 2020. A milestone birthday for anyone and it was even posted on Facebook.
September Magazine Cover

Servamus' Mission

Servamus is a community-based safety and security magazine for both members of the community as well as safety and security practitioners with the aim of increasing knowledge and sharing information, dedicated to improving their expertise, professionalism and service delivery standards. It promotes sound crime management practices, freedom of speech, education, training, information sharing and a networking platform.