Sapu's Xhosa complaint premature - MEC

Cape Town - Complaints over a recommendation that Cape Town police officers should speak Xhosa are premature, Western Cape community Safety MEC Dan Plato said on Wednesday.

He said he was concerned that the SA Policing Union (Sapu) was criticising the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry barely two days after it made its language recommendation.

Both provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer and Khayelitsha cluster commander Major General Johan Brand had supported the commission and its findings, he added.

"It is my hope that the police officers under their command will take their lead from their superiors."

Plato asked that Sapu allow the police to develop a strategy to implement the findings before criticising.

On Wednesday, Sapu said deploying only Xhosa-speaking police officers to Khayelitsha, Cape Town, was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

"While we acknowledge that language could be a barrier in terms of service delivery, Sapu supports the notion that the deployment of officers should never be done through race or language," the union's general secretary Oscar Skommere said.

"We have always encouraged officers as part of the larger South African society to move with times. The new South Africa opened doors for the co-existence of all racial groups as the rainbow nation of God."

Sapu was responding to recommendations in a report released by the commission on Monday.

The commissioners, former Constitutional Court Judge Kate O'Regan and Advocate Vusi Pikoli, recommended that police officers should be able to speak Xhosa.

"The commission notes that the Census 2011 makes plain that more than 90% of the residents of Khayelitsha speak isiXhosa as their mother tongue," the report stated.

"In the circumstances, the commission considers that it would be desirable for members of the SAPS [SA Police Service] who work in Khayelitsha to be able to speak isiXhosa."

The commission offered two solutions.

Language training

First, language training could be offered to police staff who needed it. Alternatively, the police service could "actively seek" to ensure new members placed in the area spoke the language.

Plato said the recommendation was not a rigid direction, but a positive finding aimed at building relations and improving communication.

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

"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."

He said Xhosa was one of three official languages in the Western Cape and protected by the provincial constitution.