The KwaZulu-Natal police top brass should come up with solutions to the English language challenge identified by the provincial commissioner, police unions have said.
One of the solutions, according to the unions, is to have someone who will monitor and ensure that statements and affidavits are accurate and reflect what a complainant has said to the officer in the charge office.
The South African Police Union (Sapu) and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) said the police leadership should come up with programs meant to improve how their members took statements in the English language if there were gaps.
Mkhwanazi says some cops can’t speak English
The unions were reacting to provincial police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi’s utterances during the second day of a recent community policing imbizo held in Durban that police had to use the English language in performing their office duties.
“There are police officers who have a challenge speaking English. You listen to them when they speak and you realise that ‘no, my colleague doesn’t speak English fluently’. If he is not speaking it fluently then that means he is not writing it correctly.
“This then means that you will have an issue with the statement you left at the police station. Do you blame them? You can’t blame them because they come from where they come from.”
The Constitution says there were 11 official languages, now there’s 12 including sign language, the law says that. But the justice system is not in support of the Constitution.
What are the solutions?
Sapu provincial manager Nurse Mdletshe said the observations by the commissioner should be accompanied by possible solutions.
Mdletshe said police officers needed all the support they could get as English was not their mother tongue.
“The commissioner himself made this observation about English and our members. This is not our language and hence we butcher it in spoken and written form. We need the employer to say ‘here’s a refresher course for members who have not had one since returning from college’ where our members are taught in English with the main focus being ensuring that they understand theory [and not the language],” said Mdletshe.
She said some of the officers were from rural schools where English is not used.
In police stations the charge office commander should be responsible to check if the statements and affidavits are correct and accurate before they get to the public and embarrass the profession.
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Bad experiences with the police
The Witness has spoken to at least two people who had a difficult time with police officers in two different stations.
One woman said she went to open a case at the Plessislaer police station after her clothing was stolen from the washing line. She said the session started with the officer in the charge office asking her questions.
“While she was busy writing, I was reading the statement to make sure that it was correct. She then wrote something that I did not say and I had to correct her. I could see in her face that she was not happy with me saying ‘that is not what I said’, but I had to correct her because I was not going to sign a statement that was not accurate,” she said.
Another person who asked not to be named said he had a tough time drawing up a statement at the Ladysmith police station.
“I don’t think this is the police officers’ fault because we are not English speakers. The problem is when the officer gets irritated when you correct them when they write what you did not say.”
I think people need to write their own statements [if they can] in English or the stations need to have someone in charge of verifying that a statement is a true reflection of what the complainant has told the officer.
Popcru provincial secretary Nthabeleng Molefe said the employer should be identifying possible solutions to the identified problem.
Molefe said even though they have not heard of cases of this nature, the public should identify those police stations and report to the charge office commanders of the respective stations.
“Most of these officers have just returned from college so there should be field training officers monitoring their daily duties until they are ready to do it on their own. Refresher courses are also needed to help officers to maintain their level of performance,” she said.
Occupational cultures propelled to “normalise” educational laziness
Former UKZN expert in criminology and forensic studies, Professor Witness Maluleke said the SAPS organisational and occupational cultures propelled many individuals with lower and higher ranks like the constables in this case, to “normalise” educational laziness.
“Once they graduate from the SAPS training colleges they often forget the importance of their daily duties, such as writing a complainant statement, as they do not clearly understand the existing components of the case docket, thus, informative narratives remain unfounded.
“This is not supported by evidence in a form of exhibit and annexures in most criminal cases, as a result many of these cases are withdrawn, undetected or not prosecuted owing to the compromised use of the English language. This in turn further fuels lack of trust in the local SAPS by the public,” said Maluleke.
He said refresher courses on complaints statement taking should be made compulsory for all SAPS officials irrespective of ranks and those who are well equipped on this subject should help others in the form of knowledge and skills transfers to ease this process.
“The correct usage of English terminologies, presentations of relevant information and how to obtain it should be common practices of every SAPS official to urgently restore their dented image,” he said.