/ 11 July 2023

DNA bungling delays justice for family of slain mother

Slain Mum
Simbongile Mancotywa, from Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape, was murdered on 9 May 2020. Photo supplied

Simbongile Mancotywa, of Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape, was murdered on 9 May 2020.

Her family and a police source say that her partner, the father of her two children, handed himself over to the police. According to the victim’s brother, she had been shot 15 times.

Her partner was charged with murder and rape and released on 24 May 2020. It was the talk of the town at the time. But the case was struck off the roll because of a delay in obtaining DNA results.

Cofimvaba magistrate’s court manager Mkhululi Nkunkuma refused to show us the records, so we could not establish if the accused had pleaded in court. 

But there has been no prosecution and the Mancotywa family say they have had no updates from the investigating officer.

Mancotywa’s brother, Athi Ntelesa-Mancotywa, recalling the fatal day, said, “I was in Mthatha when I received the call … I rushed to Cofimvaba.”

He said he found his sister’s half-naked body lying in a pool of blood. Police and forensics were already at the scene, he said.

“Every time I think of her, I see that image in my mind.”

He said the accused is living with his two nephews, aged five and 13. “God knows what poison he is feeding them. The justice system has failed us,” said Ntelesa-Mancotywa.

“Three years later, the suspect is roaming outside,” he said.

Provincial police spokesperson Priscilla Naidu blamed the delay in prosecution on slow DNA results. She said the case is still under investigation and, as there were allegations of rape, DNA evidence is crucial. 

She also said the court docket had not been returned to the police and referred us to the National Prosecuting Authority Eastern Cape spokesperson, Luxolo Tyali.

Tyali said the suspect had been charged for murder and rape but the matter was struck off the court roll due to the delay in getting the DNA results, which are still outstanding.

“As soon as the [DNA] results are available the case will be re-enrolled. It has now been referred to the Director of Public Prosecution’s office for handling by a senior state advocate. We view the case in serious light and wish to fast track it as the DNA results are long overdue.”

But national police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe blamed the delay on forensic samples having to be taken again. She did not say when this was discovered to be necessary, what had gone wrong or how long ago the samples had been retaken.

Following our inquiries, Mathe said on 16 June the report was ready and the investigating officer would inform the family.

We checked with the family on Monday, 10 July. They said they still had not been contacted.

Lirandzu Themba, spokesperson for police minister Bheki Cele, expressed surprise that the family has had to wait more than three years for DNA results.

“I am hoping SAPS can give you exact details of this particular case,” she said.

Themba said there had been a dramatic reduction in the DNA analysis backlog as a result of a turnaround plan for all Forensic Science Laboratories in the country. This included an increase in staff and hours of operation. A new laboratory in Gqeberha is processing samples from the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape.

However, Ian Cameron, of the Action Society, has said Cele’s claims to have eliminated the DNA processing backlog were misleading. 

Cameron said on 27 June that the backlog of 241 152 cases in April 2021 had been brought down, two years later, to 548. But about 900 new cases were being registered daily and the current backlog (cases exceeding the deadline for processing) was nearly 55 900.

This story was first published by GroundUp