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SA Hawks pick up Mandarin, Chinese police techniques

(People's Daily Online)  Sissy Zhang  2016-02-19 08:53


South African police officers demonstrate their Mandarin language skills in song during the graduation ceremony held at Sinosteel, Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2014. (People’s Daily Online/ Zhang Jiexian)

 
Exactly two years ago, David Mothapo, a member of the South African Police Service’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, locally known as the Hawks, didn't know how to greet someone in Mandarin.

As a South African, he would never have imagined spending a whole year in China to study the language and culture as part of the cooperation agreement between the two countries. Mothapo turned out to be the top student of his Basic Chinese language-training course, something that would help him realized his dreams.

"I only saw Chinese people in the streets and through Kung Fu movies on TV, I knew very little about them before the courses," Mothapo explains. "We do meet some Chinese people through our work, but some of them speak very little English, and we struggle to serve them. But now I can proudly say if any Chinese come to the police station, I will be able to assist him or her with better communication."

Mothapo has already started putting his newly acquired skill to work, using the little he knows to greet – and sometimes tease – local Chinese. "They are happy that someone is taking time to learn their language. They appreciate it very much," he said with a smile.

"Most Chinese are keen to work with the South African Police Service (SAPS), but unfortunately the relationship often becomes hostile because of communication difficulties," says Wang Zhigang, Police Counselor of the Chinese Embassy on the motivation behind the R40,000 sponsorship.

Currently, there are more than 300,000 Chinese citizens residents in SA. However, crime is an issue. A total of 15 were murdered in 2015. Most Chinese have expressed concerns for their safety and their inability to communicate with local police due to language barriers.

Addressing these concerns, SAPS and the Chinese Embassy, with the support of China's Ministry of Public Security, began cooperating in 2014 on the Chinese language-training program. Thanks to this initiative, 35 SAPS officers have picked up some Mandarin.


The program has been integrated into the Hawks officers’ daily duties with lessons held every Thursday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm.

"We fully understand at your age, how much effort and energy you dedicated to learning Mandarin, one of the most difficult languages in the world," said Cong Lin, a tutor in the program as she handed over graduation certificates to her students during a ceremony. "We admire all your effort for this achievement," she added.

Through this language course, Hawks officers have acquired basic Chinese speaking and writing skills, and a preliminary understanding of Chinese culture, including Chinese cuisine, which is extremely helpful to their law enforcement efforst. Better interaction with the Chinese community in SA strengthens mutual trust and understanding.

"I love Chinese people and their language, even though it's difficult, it is still great fun," says Caroline Matjila-Botlhoko, SAPS lieutenant and Chinese course graduate who spent a year in Beijing studying Mandarin and police techniques. Matjila-Botlhoko and two Angolans were the first three Africans invited to participate in the annual project organized by the Chinese government in the past 10 years. She is planning to travel to China again in order to improve her Mandarin.

“China is equipped with a more advanced police system that is technology based, in full control, direct linking and we aspire to be at that level," said Major General Pharasi, SAPS Functionary from Gauteng Provincial Commissioner's Office.

"There's no way we can expect to improve service without knowing the language and culture of the people we serve. We appreciate the Chinese government offering this opportunity to us," said Pharasi.

"We will further ensure that, when people walk our streets, they do so in a safe environment. Basically we want to see a South Africa free from crime. As we join hands, this is just the beginning,” he added.




(The story was originally published on Business Day on January, 29th, 2016.)