Links FAQ's
saps banner
About the Forensic Science Laboratory

Forensic Science Laboratory | Ballistic Unit | Scientific Analysis Unit | Question Document Unit
Biology Unit | Chemistry Unit | Explosives Unit

Assistant Forensic Ananlysts

Requirements: An appropriate three-year Bachelor’s degree in Science:

Anthropology, Virology, Criminology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Agriculture, Medical Degree / Medical technology/ Medical Science, Biotechnology, Entomology, Archeology, Forensic Investigation / Science, Pharmaceutics, Information Technology, Electron Microscopy, Metallurgical Analysis, Electronic / Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, BSc Engineering, BA Criminology, BA Police Science, BA Law, BA Psychology, B Juries / B Proc, LLB, B (Pharm), Analytical Chemistry, Food Technology

Diploma in: Veterinary Science, Biotechnology, Medical Technology, Trichology, Forensic Investigation / Science / Criminalistics, Quality Assurance / Control, Analytical Chemistry, Information Technology / MSCE / MCSD / Relational databases / Data Ease / A+ diploma, Food Technology, Electrical Engineering, Police Science, Environmental Science / Human hygiene, Armourer.

A degree / diploma consisting of at least one of the following third year subjects and one subject on any other level, if subjects are listed with an asterix (*), then those subjects may be considered as one subject:

Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Botany, Zoology, Pharmacology, Computer Science, Biology, Physiology, *Mathematics / Statistics / mathematical statistics, *Geology / Geochemistry / Mineralogy, Soil Science, Legal Medicine, Psychology, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Law of Evidence, Applied Mathematics, Mechanics, Pathology, Investigation of crime, Genetics, Microbiology, Criminology, Physics, Metallurgy, Mechanical Engineering, Paint/Polymers and Electrical/Electronic Engineering.

Certificate: Advance certificate program in Forensic Criminalistics.

Applicable service (100%)
Forensic Analyst

  • Any laboratory duties
  • preparing the specimen
  • Calibrating of scientific equipment
  • fragment analysis
  • quality control
  • Armourers experience at an acknowledged institution.

Service rendered as a functional member of the Local Criminal Record Centre.
Service rendered as a Detective in the SAPS with experience in serious and violent crime.
Science Teacher.

Back to top

Forensic Science Laboratory

Forensic Science is the application of scientific methods in the investigation of crime and specifically the examination of physical exhibit material. The word “ Forensic“ is derived from the Latin word Forum and is understood to mean “ for the courts”. The basis of most facets of this field is the Locard Principle. This states that every contact leaves a trace.

The Forensic Science Laboratory of the South African Police Service was formed on 15 January 1971 with the Biology, Chemistry and Electronics Units. A new building complex was occupied in March 1987 when the Ballistic and Question Document Unit, which before this had resorted under the SA Criminal Bureau, were amalgamated with the FSL. Early in 2000 a decision was made to amalgamate the Explosive Investigation Service with the FSL, which realized on 2000-04-01.

In addition to the main laboratory in Pretoria, decentralized offices are established in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. The laboratories in Pretoria and the Western Cape consists of all the units, while the Eastern Cape Laboratory have Ballistic and Chemistry Units and the laboratory in Kwa Zulu Natal consists of a Ballistic Unit.


The activities of the FSL are the application of scientific principles, methods and techniques to the process of investigation. In an objective search for the truth, the intention is not only to bring offenders of the law to justice but also to protect the innocent people against prosecution. This service include scenes of crime and the analysis of physical evidence in order to arrive at a meaningful conclusion.

The Forensic Science consist of the following units:

1. Ballistic Unit

  • The rendering of an effective Ballistic service
  • This Unit is responsible for examining firearm and tool marks. Etching process are applied to restore numbers which have been obliterated on firearms.

The majority of examinations conducted by the Ballistic Unit fall into three main categories:

  • Internal forensic ballistics
  • External forensic ballistics
  • Terminal forensic ballistics

The examinations that are conducted are as follows:

  • The examination, particularly in cases of alleged accidental discharge, of firearms and their mechanism to determine possible defects.
  • Examination of homemade instruments and miscellaneous firearms to determine whether or not they comply with the description of “firearm” as defined in Section 1 of Act 75 of 1969.
  • Determining of calibre and type of ammunition.
  • Identification of the components of “small-arm” ammunition.
  • Determining of the possible type of weapon from which a suspect bullet or cartridge case was fired.
  • Microscopic comparison of bullets fired as well as cartridge cases, to determine whether or not they were fired from the same firearm, particularly in cases in where it is suspected that one of the firearms was used at more than one crime scene.
  • The individualisation of fired bullets and cartridge cases to determine whether or not a particular suspect firearm had been used. C Examination of ricochet possibilities.
  • Determination of the type of calibre or projectile.
  • Determination of the entrance and exit of a projectile
  • Miscellaneous examinations.

Back to top

2.Scientific Analysis Unit


The rendering of an effective Forensic Analysis service by applying the principles of physics.

A variety of organic and inorganic matter or substances is analysed at the Scientific Analysis Unit. Typical examples of organic matter are plastics, synthetic fibres, fuels and vegetable medicines/poisons. Inorganic matter includes soil, gold, metals, and primer residue.

Physical Matches
When two or more pieces of a broken object physically fit together to form a unit, it can be proved that they are indeed part of the same object. Physical matches play an important role in determining the origin of an object. Examples of substances with which it is possible to conduct physical matches are pieces of broken glass, torn paper tape or clothing, or any other object that can be broken.

The variations in colour, formulation and use of paint make it a physical exhibit with decisive value as evidence. It thus plays an important role in cases such as hit and run, vehicle collisions and burglaries in which force was used to enter premises or a safe.

Owing to its nature, soil is readily transferable to items of clothing, motor vehicles, etc. This transferred soil can be of great value as evidence. In the analysis of soil the colour, particle size, mineralogy and organic composition are of great importance in the investigation of cases.

Examination of the filaments of lights (headlights, brake lights, tail lights and/or indicator lights) in vehicle collisions can determine whether the lights of the vehicle concerned were switched on during an accident.

Glass is often found on clothing and can have useful evidence. It is possible to determined a physical match between a crime scene sample and a specimen can be made and from which side the force was applied that broke the glass. Glass can also be analysed chemically for a match.

This field focuses on the characteristics of metals and other materials such as ceramics and the implications on the investigation. It includes the following:

  • Determining of the cause of failure of materials by analysing the surface of the fracture
  • Analysis of metals for conformation to specification.
  • Analysis of the surface finish of a material.
  • Chemical analysis and chemical profiling of metals.
  • Identification of various types of materials.

Coins, Jewellery and Precious Stones and Metals
South African coins are examined in order to establish their authenticity. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, etc. are examined to determine whether or not they are genuine. Precious metal are ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, osmium, iridium, platinum and gold. Any article or material that falls within the above description, such as ores and soils, can be examined in order to determine the purity and value. Chemical profiling is also carried out on precious metals.

Diverse Analysis
This includes any chemical analysis nor performed by any of the other components in the Forensic Science Laboratory. Routine analysis include:

  • Alcohol quantity in liquor (e.g. illegal liquor sales, fraud as a result of watered-down liquor).
  • Any diverse chemical analysis: including brake fluid, oils, glues and adhesives, dyes, perfumes etc.

Examinations done includes:

  • Video cassette analysis.
  • Audio cassette analysis.
  • Magnetic tape sound enhancements.
  • Scenes of electrical or electronic crimes
  • Electrical fires.
  • Electrocution.
  • Crime related to computers.
  • Data retrieval.
  • Copyright on programs.
  • Computer hardware.
  • Software.
  • Voice comparison/individualization

Polygraph Component
Also known as the lie detector, the polygraph used detect any deviation in for example blood pressure and heart beat when responding to certain questions. Members have undergone intensive international training.

Back to top

3.Question Document Unit


The rendering of an effective Question Document examination service.
Examinations conducted by this Unit are;

  • Handwriting individualization. By comparing the individual writing characteristics present in the writing on a disputed document with those in the specimen writing of a specific person, it can be determined whether that person is the author of the disputed document. In such a case, there is an unambiguous connection between the person and the disputed writing.
  • Typewriting. A typewritten or printed document can be individualized as the product of a specific machine.
  • Erasures, obliterations, additions, insertions and overwriting on documents can be detected and in most cases the original writing be restored.
  • Forged signatures. Simulating and tracing of signatures can be determined.
  • Base material (paper). The material used as a base for the composition of a document can be examined to reveal whether the base material is of a definite type, manufacture or kind that may be indicative of its origin.
  • Ink and other mediums used on documents. The use of various inks or mediums on one or different documents can be distinguished. Thus it can be determined whether additions or changes were made by using another ink or medium.

Other apparatus and equipment. The examination of items such as rubber or metal stamps, printing presses, sealing-wax apparatus, punch card machines, photocopies, mechanical calculators can be of assistance to investigating officers to determine whether documents were prepared by the same type of machine or , more importantly, to be able to identify a specific machine.

Indentations. Through the application of various techniques (e.g electrostatic detection oblique lighting), indentations on documents originating from previous documents can be made legible.

Damaged documents. Documents that are damaged by being scorched, burnt, soiled, or torn can partially or completely restored.

Counterfeit banknotes. South African, USA dollar and other foreign banknotes are examined with a view of establishing authenticity. Printers’ plates and colour laser copies possibly used in the manufacture of banknotes, can also be examined and linked to specific counterfeit notes.

Back to top

4.Biology Unit


The rendering of an effective Biology service
The Biology Unit is responsible for the analyses of evidentiary material of biological origin, (e.g. body fluids, human tissue and hair) with the aim of accomplishing the highest possible degree of human identification trough forensic DNA analysis and microscopical comparison (the latter exclusively on hair.
The purpose of forensic biological analysis is to:

  • Implicate an individual’s presence on a crime scene.
  • Link relevant items, containing genetic material, related to crime scene/other crimes.

The evidential value of human identification through DNA analysis depends on the ownership of exhibits and the place where the exhibits were found. This important concept determines the value of the forensic biological results obtained from analysing crime samples.

Microscopically observed structural similarities in hair are used to compare crime samples (hair found on the scenes of crime) to control or reference, hair samples. A single hair may reveal certain facts, for example, the race, the area of the body from where it originates, the use of dye or bleach on the hair and the manner in which the hair was removed.

Scene Iinvestigation & Support
This component attends & investigate crime scene of a biological nature, performs anthropology investigations aimed at facial reconstructions, collects and refers entomological & odontological evidence, performs mummified fingerprinting and exhumations.

  • Crime scenes are investigated to collect evidential material for further analysis at the lab or reference to outside institutions and for the purpose to reconstruction of events.
  • The component does two-dimensional and / or three dimensional facial reconstructions on sculls based on anthropology classifications performed by the Department of Anatomy, at the University of Pretoria.
  • Entomological specimens are collected on scene & referred to an outside Institution for examination.
  • Unidentifiable bodies are examined for the possibility of mummified fingerprints on decomposed bodies.
  • The component exhumes bodies for the purpose of control samples or identification of the deceased.
  • The component act in a co-ordinating capacity regarding the collection and reference of ordontological material.

Back to top

5. Chemistry Unit
Rendering of an effective Chemistry service.
The Chemistry Unit undertakes analysis in each of the following fields.

Forensic Drug Ananlysis
The SAPS and other Drug Enforcement and Prosecuting Agencies are assisted in the investigation of drug-related crimes. Assistance is rendered by:

  • Analysing substances (e.g. powders, pills, liquids) suspected of containing controlled pharmaceutical and / or illicit drugs. The active controlled ingredient(s)in the unknown substance is identified and the controlled status thereof with the reference to the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act, Adt 101 of 1965 and the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act. Act 140 of 1992, is determined. Analysis results are reported and expert testimony is given when required.
  • Attending and investigate drug-related crime scenes, with special emphasis on illicit drug manufacturing laboratories. A complete pre-and post raid forensic support services is rendered with regard to illicit laboratory investigations. Trained staff are available to reconstruct such illicit laboratories, give an opinion on the activities thereof, and make production estimates.
  • Compiling physical and chemical profiles on drugs for intelligence and operational purposes (selected cases only)Data generated is compiled in a National Forensic Drug Intelligence Database.
  • Providing technical assistance to relevant legislative bodies regarding the classification. And prohibition of dependence-forming substances.
  • Providing of workshops and training to enable role-players to effectively utilize the forensic technical support provided.

Common drugs routinely analysed, include:

  • Natural and synthetic
  • Cocaine
  • LSD
  • Methaqualome
  • Cannabis sativa and products thereof (“dagga”, hashish”)
  • Amphetamine and related compounds
  • Various medicines controlled by the Medicines and Related Substance Control Act ( Act 101/65).

This component assists in the investigation of explosions by:

  • Analysing exhibit material after an explosion to determine what type of explosive was used.
  • Rendering technical assistance to the Bomb Disposal Unit in evaluating home-built explosive devices and explosives.

In the event of suspected arson expert assistance is rendered by;

  • Attending fire scenes and performing a detailed physical appraisal of the scene.
  • Analysing exhibit material for traces of liquid fire accelerate (e.g. petrol, paraffin). CIssuing a detailed report based on the physical and chemical investigation unto the fire ion.

Toxicology cases in which a criminal charge has been laid as a result of suspected poisoning of people , animals (e.g. Livestock) or plants (e.g. crops)

Poison analysed will include:

  • Commercial pesticides and herbicides
  • Metal poisons (e.g. lead, arsenic, mercury)
  • Plant poisons (e.g. injudicious use of herbal and traditional medicines).

Exhibit material analysed include:

  • Food, fodder and liquids (e.g. drinking water)
  • Plant and medicinal material
  • Content of stomach and crop
  • Hair and nails of animals

Organs, blood and urine are analysed by the Laboratories of the Department of Health and Population Development.

Back to top

6. Exlosives Unit
This unit is responsible for the management and maintenance of a bomb disposal ability in the SAPS and for the control over explosives nationally. This includes the administration and enforcement of the Explosives Act, 1996 (Act 26 of 1956), Section 32 or the Arms and ammunition Acts and the provisions of standing order SO (S) 43.

Activities include:

  • Investigation of explosives related incidents, bomb threats, bomb incidents and suspect articles and vehicles.
  • Searching for and collecting evidence on explosive-related scenes
  • Handling and disposal of radioactive and toxic substances
  • Prior searching and safeguarding of premises and vehicles for explosive devices during visits and appearances of every important persons.

Successes of the laboratory
The FSL's success are well appreciated by our clients - the investigation officer, the courts of law and the community being served. It would be an injustice to the laboratory`s hard -working individuals to single out specific cases as major successes. Every case where a contribution towards the cause of justice was made must be regarded as a significant success.

Technological advances include, but are not limited to the continuing success of the Integrated Ballistic Identification System "IBIS" (1592 positive connections out of a total of 74857 acquisitions on the database for which South African received an award for the most effective installation globally at the international user group meeting in Dallas, USA in March 2000), the growth and development of the DNA Criminal Intelligence Database, the National Drug Intelligence Database as well as numerous other developments to stay abreast with the newest technologies utilised criminals.