Khayelitsha Commission: SAPU should follow SAPS and support the recommendations

Dan Plato, MPP

Western Cape Minister of Community Safety 

I am concerned that less than two days since the report on the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry’s findings was released, the South African Police Union (SAPU) has already starting criticising some of the recommendations.

The Western Cape Provincial Police Commissioner, Lieutenant General Arno Lamoer, as well as the Khayelitsha Cluster Commander, Major General Johan Brand, have both supported the Commission and its findings and it is my hope that the police officers under their command will take their lead from their superiors.

The following extract illustrates why police officers stationed in Khayelithsa should be able to speak isiXhosa: “Census 2011 also establishes that Khayelitsha is ethnically and linguistically homogenous with 98.7% of the population describing themselves as Black/African and 89.8% specifying isiXhosa as their home language.”

Testimony from SAPS Colonel Marais in the final report states that he “agreed that it would be helpful if SAPS were to provide Xhosa lessons for those members who do not speak isiXhosa”.

On the shortage of detectives able to speak isiXhosa, the final report states it can be addressed in two ways: “first, by providing all SAPS members who do not speak isiXhosa with language training, and secondly, by actively seeking to ensure that new members placed in Khayelitsha are able to speak isiXhosa”.

The same logic should apply at other police stations too, for example, those servicing predominantly Afrikaans or English speaking residents. This is by no means a rigid direction but a positive finding aimed at building relations between the police and the public and to improve communication levels between the police and local residents.

Language, as a communication tool, is an important part in ensuring effective service delivery to communities.

When it comes to policing, a language barrier can be the barrier between assisting someone in a crisis or being unable to help them; between conviction and acquittal, or between feeling safe or unsafe.

My office has received complaints in the past of ineffective assistance from the police services due to language barriers at police stations. These were addressed at the time by the Department’s policing complaints unit.

isiXhosa is one of the three official languages in the Western Cape, as protected in the Western Cape constitution. The promotion of isiXhosa, and the goal to empower and affirm the speakers of previously marginalised languages, are clear goals of the Western Cape Language Policy.

SAPU should also remember that the police, as an entity under national government, have to subscribe to the Use of Official Languages Act (12 of 2012) which aims to facilitate equitable access to services and information of national government for efficient public service administration and to meet the needs of the public.

While I note the SAPU chairperson’s acknowledgement that the recommendation regarding language use is a practical one, I ask that the organisation first allow the SAPS and relevant departments to develop a strategy to implement the findings before criticising them so heavily. The ultimate aim is to improve the relations between the public and the police and to ensure a better police service for all.

The Department of Community Safety, after receiving the report on Monday, has started studying the findings to look at how best they can effectively be implemented. The SAPS have adopted the same approach and have already claimed to be implementing some of the findings.

Sapu and all other organisations and individuals affected by the findings of the Khayelitsha Commission should adopt a similar approach to that of Provincial Commissioner Lamoer, who during his testimony, said “We look forward to the outcome of the inquiry because we will use (the outcome) not only to better the three stations in Khayelitsha, but (also) all stations in the province”.