South Africa: W. Cape police face possible action over language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jan 26 14:33:54 UTC 2007

W Cape police face possible action over language policy

Johannesburg, South Africa  25 January 2007 06:49

The FW de Klerk Foundation has threatened legal action against the Western
Cape police's English-only language policy. It said on Thursday if it
hasn't received a formal response from provincial Commissioner Mzwandile
Petros by Monday, it will seek a court order forcing him to bring his
policy in line with national police requirements. Paul Hoffman, director
of the Centre for Constitutional Rights of the FW de Klerk Foundation,
said the provincial police's decision that only English be used for all
internal, including radio, communication is "unacceptable and

Afrikaans is the first language of two-thirds of the population in the
Western Cape. "If you have a Constable Fortyn and an Inspector Van der
Merwe chasing an Afrikaans-speaking suspect on behalf of an Afrikaans
complainant and they're expected to have radio communication in English,
you can see that the situation is quite laughable." Hoffman said according
to the orders issued by the Western Cape South African Police Service
(SAPS), its members should use only English for radio communication'
training of student constables; the completion of all official registers;
criminal dockets and enquiry files; in all meetings "where language is an
issue"; in the minutes of such meetings; in all written correspondence; in
all circulars for general information and all press releases.

Hoffman said that were an Afrikaans police officer to be cross-examined in
court using his English notes, he would struggle to give a good account of
himself. The matter came to light after a group of Afrikaans-speaking
members of the police approached the foundation when they felt their
language rights were being trampled on. In a statement issued on Thursday,
Western Cape police's Deputy Commissioner Ganief Daniels said it was
decided to use English internally for practical purposes, because of the
diversity of race groups in the service. "The use of English does not mean
that we do not acknowledge and respect other languages. However, it is not
economically and practically possible to accommodate every member of the
[SAPS] in their home language."

He said the language problem arose about four years ago when police
recruitment was made to reflect the country's demographics. He, however,
went on to deny that Petros issued an instruction that SAPS members should
only communicate in English at all meetings, and that all documentation
and registers be completed in English. "I wish to strongly deny this. The
provincial commissioner had never at any stage issued a verbal or written
instruction of such a nature." Hoffman said the policy wis illegal since
it ignores national police standing orders that at least two languages be
used. It is also unconstitutional in that it prevents Afrikaans and other
language speakers from using their languages.

"If the new South Africa is going to stay on the high road, you can't just
have those with their fingers in the pie riding roughshod over the rights
of others." He said he hoped the matter could be resolved amicably.


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