Western Cape police English only ‒ “service” now only found in the name SAPS

The civil rights organisation AfriForum condemns the instruction of the Western Cape police chief, Lieut.-Gen. Thembisile Patekile, that all future A1 statements and official documentation of the SAPS in this province have to be in English only. This order has become known in the media over the weekend.

According to Alana Bailey, Head of Cultural Affairs at AfriForum, this is not the first time that a provincial police chief has decided in favour of monolingualism. “In the past, a similar instruction had been given in Limpopo and AfriForum lodged complaints against it with, among others, the South African Human Rights Commission. The order was subsequently reversed. Apparently there had also been legal action in the Northern Cape against an instruction of this nature. Sadly the events repeat themselves and by the time a decision has been overturned, a great deal of injustice may already have taken place as a result of victims’ and police officials’ inability to use English fluently.”

Bailey pointed out that the vast majority of Western Cape residents and police members are not mother-language speakers of English. Language mistakes made in a statement can result in victims losing a court case because their version in court differs from that in the original statement.

Precisely because South Africa is a multilingual country, the Use of Official Languages Act (Act 12 of 2012) provides for the use of at least three languages at national level and respectively the three most used languages per province. This legislation is ignored by the commissioner with his instruction that the police’s “official language” (singular) must be used.

“This reversal to English monolingualism makes it clear that the South African Police Service is not interested in serving the community it is supposed to attend to. The most defenceless people are affected by this decision, such as minors and less literate victims. It also contravenes the provisions of the official Service Charter for Victims of Crime. The monolingual policy will be opposed. AfriForum encourages all members of the Western Cape public who experience problems in this regard to send information about their experiences to afriforum@afriforum.co.za.”

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