OUTRAGED: Women protest outside the Indian High Commission, London after five men were accused of raping and murdering an Indian student in New Delhi.  Picture: REUTERS
OUTRAGED: Women protest. Picture: REUTERS

WHEN the African National Congress (ANC) was elected in 1994, it swiftly made clear that it understood that power without cash flow was meaningless.

Accordingly, it focused its best brains on tax collection and created a revenue service, empowered by legislation, which runs roughshod over citizens’ rights and is among the most efficient in the world.

In short, when there is a perceived priority, the political will, and no squeamishness about means and ends, even our inept government can get things done.

It is clear — as we confront this pandemic of rape — that addressing the problem is not as important to the ANC as the collection of taxes. What can be done that is both affordable and will produce tangible results?

The answer is self-evident: create a national DNA database.

Just as (in theory) you cannot obtain a cellphone without a Rica registration, add a DNA ID to the mandatory information for any form of interaction with the state.

Then establish DNA testing facilities everywhere — and if necessary privatise them to ensure they are well run and provide rapid results for a fixed cost.

The current forensic laboratories are so far behind in their workload they cannot be expected to render reports with the speed and efficiency this crisis demands.

Rape is a crime rich in perpetrator DNA. A simple swab, instant testing and computer matching to a national database will dramatically change the risk profile for the rapist.

Since criminals are largely economically rational (they operate a risk-reward calculus) they will begin to modify their behaviour.

Corruption may ensure that this database is not as complete in practice as it should be. There will still be policing errors, and poorly managed prosecutions (though the quality of the evidence should compensate for normal procedural ineptitude). And the same database would be available for the pursuit of petty criminals.

All it takes is the political will.

Michael Fridjhon