South Africa: Police Chief seeks advice on language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jan 31 13:57:39 UTC 2007

Police chief seeks advice on language policy

Johannesburg, South Africa

30 January 2007 08:22

The Western Cape's police commissioner has taken legal advice following
threats of court action over his English-only language policy. "The good
news is the commissioner of police has ... gone to the state attorney in
Cape Town, who has asked to study our documents and legal opinions," the
director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights of the FW de Klerk
Foundation, Paul Hoffman, said on Monday. Hoffman said the foundation will
allow the other side to study its case and expects a response within "a
week or so".

The foundation said on Thursday that if had not received a formal response
from provincial commissioner Mzwandile Petros by Monday, it would seek a
court order forcing him to bring his language policy in line with national
police requirements. 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. Afrikaans is the
first language of two-thirds of the Western Cape's population. Hoffman
said the provincial police's Deputy Commissioner Ganief Daniels earlier on
Monday told radiosondergrense that police are sensitive to the rights of
Afrikaans speakers and that, in the near future, new standing orders will
see these sensitivities taken into account.

The foundation said it hopes the problem will see a "negotiated
settlement". Hoffman said that according to the orders issued by the
Western Cape South African Police Service, 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 in press releases. Pointing out problems with the policy,
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

In a statement issued on Thursday, Daniels said it was decided to use
English internally for practical purposes, because of the diversity of
race groups in the service. However, he went on to deny that Petros issued
an instruction that South African Police Service 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 has never at any stage issued a verbal or written
instruction of such a nature."

Hoffman said the English-only policy is illegal since it ignores national
police standing orders that at least two languages be used. It is also
unconstitutional as it prevented Afrikaans and other native-language
speakers from using their languages. -- Sapa


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