Requirement by SAPS that Complainant Statements must be in English
Issued By the FW de Klerk Foundation on 15/03/2023


The FW de Klerk Foundation is deeply concerned about reports that Lieutenant-General Thembisile Patekile, the Head of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the Western Cape, has issued an instruction that English must be used in all A-1 statements at police stations in the province. A-1 statements are completed by people usually when they are reporting crimes at police stations.

This is in flagrant contravention of section 6(3)(a) of the Constitution which requires that the national government and provincial governments “must use at least two official languages.” The languages the government chooses must take into account the needs and preferences of the population of the province concerned. Afrikaans is by far the most widely spoken language in the Western Cape and must axiomatically be one of at least two national languages used in the Western Cape by provincial and national departments – including the South African Police Service.

The failure of General Patekile to understand this fundamental constitutional requirement may be ascribed to the fact that he appears not to be aware of the provisions of the 2012 Use of Official Languages Act (UOLA). The Act is supposed to regulate and monitor the use of official languages for government purposes and to “promote parity of esteem and equitable treatment of all South Africa’s official languages”. It requires all government departments – including the SAPS – to adopt language policies that comply with section 6(3)(a) of the Constitution.

The Act is also supposed to facilitate “equitable access” to government services and information – in other words, to ensure that wherever possible South Africans are provided services in the official language that they best understand. This is particularly important in situations where people go to police stations to report crimes. The complainants, who are often traumatised by the crimes that they come to report, must provide police with the most accurate and detailed statements possible. Clearly, such statements should be made in the official language that they best understand.

Unfortunately, the Use of Official Languages Act has never been properly implemented by the Government. Many government institutions have not adopted the required language policies and, in any event, there is no indication that such policies are properly monitored by the government, as required by UOLA.

However, General Patikile might be interested to learn that on 8 March 2016, the SAPS did – in fact- adopt a language policy. The Policy commits the SAPS to upholding the praiseworthy principle of “Functional Multilingualism” which includes the “language preference(s), use and proficiency of the target audience (in this case the population of the Western Cape); a broad acceptance of linguistic diversity; and recognition of linguistic human rights.” The Policy states quite clearly that the languages that SAPS will use in the Western Cape are “English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa”.

It would thus appear that General Patikile’s new policy contravenes not only the Constitution and UOLA but also the policy of his own service. The Foundation respectfully calls on him to rescind without delay his instruction relating to the language in which A-1 Statements must be submitted. If he does not do so, the Foundation will take the matter up with SAPS, the Pan South African Language Board and the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.