Top former and current Cape Town police, backed by the police union Sapu, have denounced a recommendation by the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry that police members stationed in the crime-ridden township be trained to speak Xhosa.
In its final report on the actions of the three police stations in Khayelitsha, the commission recommended that all police members who did not speak Xhosa be taught the language, while the police management must actively seek to ensure that new members placed in the township were able to speak it.
While Sapu conceded that the language barrier had an impact on policing in the area, it was less than pleased with the recommendation that all staff unable to speak Xhosa be trained to do so.
Sapu’s Western Cape chairman, Joseph Manuel, said the recommendation was a practical one, but asking old policemen stationed there to learn a new language was outrageous. “It will be an impossible recommendation to achieve and will not work.”
The union, which represents police officials across the racial spectrum, said that while the language barrier had always been a concern, forcing people to learn a language was not the way to go.
“In the end you will have to place Afrikaans-speaking police officials in predominantly Afrikaans areas. But how would one manage this if there are 11 official languages in the country? Doing this all over will be a mammoth task and it will hamper integration,” Manuel said.
He also pointed out that there was not a single community in Cape Town where people spoke only one language.
The policeman said appointments such as that of Major-General Johan Brand, who previously headed the Mitchells Plain station and was now Khayelitsha cluster commander, were made on the basis of their competence as managers, not on the basis of their race or language.
“The official language in policing and the criminal justice system is English. Does the language issue become a competency requirement for employment into a position? If so, then it’s wrong.”
He said police were governed by the country’s equity legislation, which required that staff of different demographics should be replicated at all levels of the organisation nationally. This referred to population demographics, not language.
Guy Lamb, director of UCT’s safety and violence initiative, who also testified before the commission, said where practically possible police should take the language recommendation seriously, especially in crime hot spot areas.
“The important thing in Khayelitsha is that there have been specific complaints about not having Xhosa-speaking staff to deal with complaints from the public. Khayelitsha is a priority crime area and there needs to be language representation.”
Axolile Notywala, a Khayelitsha resident and member of the Social Justice Coalition, said most Khayelitsha residents were Xhosa speakers and so it would be more effective if police officers stationed there spoke the same language.