• Prevention is key to protecting our homes from fire. In this month’s Community Safety Tips published from p52 in Servamus: September 2021, we share information about the common causes of fire and what you have to do in case of fire.

  • It can be a headache for authorities to identify the bodies of deceased persons. article published from p22 in Servamus: September 2021 provides valuable information on how forensic science and databases can be used in the identification process.

  • With their keen sense of smell, biological body-fluid detection dogs play a vital role at rape and murder crime scenes. Our article published from p18 in Servamus: September 2021 explains their training, work and successes along with their human partners.

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By Annalise Kempen
Information provided by Dr Shakeera Holland

Television series have played a significant role in creating public interest about forensic science and the investigation of crime. Unfortunately, the timelines and ideal conditions that are created in many of these programmes in which these television forensic scientists work, are often worlds apart from what forensic practitioners deal with in reality. One of the aspects that usually forms part of the storylines is the post-mortem examinations that are performed on deceased victims. And while many of us may find the process disgusting and nauseating, it is one of the most important aspects in revealing the truth about the cause of a person’s unnatural death through to the application of forensic science.

When someone dies, we all want to know what had caused their death and whether the person died as a result of an illness, disease or due to an unnatural cause. In the latter case, it is important to determine the exact cause of death to know whether someone should be held responsible for that person’s untimely passing. For this purpose, a forensic pathologist or forensic medical practitioner who has been registered and appointed in terms of regulation 16 of the Health Professions Act 56 of 1974, has to perform a post-mortem examination, which can include an autopsy, on the deceased’s body.

Post-mortem examinations and autopsies are said to date back more than 2000 years ago to ancient Roman times. It is widely reported that the post-mortem examination that Antistius, a doctor who may have been Julius Caesar’s personal physician, performed on Caesar, could be history’s first recorded application of medical knowledge to an unnatural death. Caesar was stabbed 23 times, but only one stab between the first and second rib proved fatal. This knife stroke was lodged with an upward-angled thrust just below the left shoulder blade which pierced Caesar’s heart. Even though it was impossible to verify the physician’s conclusions as Caesar’s body was cremated, it has been noted that Antistius’s inquiry marked the beginning of the pathologist’s role as an expert witness to murder (Bursztajn, 2005).

Forensic science is defined as “the application of scientific methods and techniques to matters under investigation by a court of law” (https://www.lexico.com/definition/forensic_ science). In South Africa, the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) was established on 15 January 1971 with various specialised units, namely biology, chemistry and electronics. Through the years, more specialised units, including the Ballistics and Questioned Document Units, which previously resorted under the SA Criminal Bureau, were amalgamated with the FSL. The activities of the various FSL units include the application of scientific principles, methods and techniques to the process of investigation. Forensic scientists have to perform the analysis of physical evidence objectively to search for the truth, with the intention of bringing perpetrators of crime to justice while simultaneously protecting innocent people from prosecution (SAPS, Nd). However, one of the subdisciplines of forensic science which does not resort under the FSL is the Forensic Pathology Services.

In 1998, Cabinet approved the transfer of the Medico-legal laboratories (MLL) or government mortuaries as they are commonly referred to, from the South African Police Service (SAPS) to the Department of Health. These MLLs were transferred to the Department of Health on 1 April 2006. The reasons for the transfer to another department included that Government wanted to improve objectivity and transparency regarding the handling of bodies and post-mortems, especially when it came to the handling of evidence regarding deaths in police custody (Kempen, 2006). It was a serious concern that the SAPS could not be the custodian of bodies due to possible conflict of interests since SAPS members might have been the perpetrators of murders or culpable negligence.

[This is only an extract of an article published in Servamus: August 2021. The rest of the article explains the relevant terminology; the applicable legislation; the function of a forensic medical practitioner and their role on a death scene; how DNA can be identified and when it should be collected, as well as their challenges. If you want to find out how you can read the rest of this article, send an e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..]

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Servamus - September 2021

The relatives of a Pietermaritzburg couple, who were shot dead in their bakkie on Old Greytown Road in March 2021, were angry when a young, close relative discovered a video making rounds on social media platforms showing the grisly scene.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
These days the media is able to cover almost every aspect of the criminal justice system, from the bloody crime scene and the arrest of the perpetrator, to the trial and eventually the sentencing of the perpetrator.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
Blood dripping from stairs like waterfalls and maimed bodies; decomposed bodies covered with maggots; small children crying out in pain after being raped by someone they trus-ted; and women with bruised faces and bodies who shamefully try to hide their pain and humiliation are just a few scenarios that police members come across when they are called to a crime scene.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
One of the most familiar cold cases, which still boggles South Africans’ minds after all these years, is the Gert van Rooyen and Joey Haarhoff case, when at least six young girls mysteriously disappeared in the late 1980s.
By Kotie Geldenhuys

Pollex - September 2021

Act 7 of 2021 supra appears in English and Afrikaans in Government Gazette No 44650 dated 1 June 2021. It amends the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998.
This Act 2 of 2020 is discussed comprehensively in Ask Pollex in Servamus: October 2020.
Read More - S v Josephs 2021(1) SACR 450 (WCC)
Relevant legislation Section 302 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 (“the CPA”) provides as follows:
Read More - S v Tiry and Eight Others 2021(1) SACR 349 (SCA)
Factual background The principal complainants in this matter are Sasol and Engen who are producers of petroleum products.

Letters - September 2021

When police members turn 60, they are legally obliged to go on pension. Yet, that does not mean that they are "old".
Pollex noticed the following two letters in the regional newspaper Tyger Burger, dated 2 June 2021, which circulates in the Northern Suburbs in the Cape Peninsula.
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.