Public servants desperately need sensitivity training
Opinion / 2 November 2019, 09:00am / Ryland Fisher
This week has been one in which we have felt proud to be South African at times, but also ashamed at other times.
The pride for many has been related to the Springboks reaching the final of the Rugby World Cup. For many others, this is also the source of the shame. More on this later.
The shame has also been because of the vicious response by police to migrants in Cape Town. It does not reflect well on your country if members of your police force forcibly pull babies out of the hands of their mothers and generally mishandle foreigners from other African countries, or anyone for that matter.
It shows there is a lack of sensitivity in police training. I am not arguing for what some people might consider a “soft” approach by police - police need to be tough, especially in a crime-ridden country such as ours, but they also need an ability to apply discretion.
The people from neighbouring countries, who are seeking a better life in South Africa, on the whole are not our enemies, even though some of them might engage in crime.
But the tough action, batons and stun grenades should be reserved for criminals, including those terrorising the Cape Flats and those who have stolen millions from poor people.
There appears to be a problem in the public service where those who work in the government do not appear to understand that our democracy needs a sensitivity to our violent past and humane treatment of everyone in our country. We cannot afford to have a situation where anyone is mistreated based on class, gender, race, country of origin or economic circumstances.
We need to start off with respect before we decide to get tough.
From watching the videos of Wednesday’s police action against the migrants in Cape Town, it is clear the police went in to terrorise and intimidate. They appear not to know how to treat anyone with dignity.
This is probably true for many parts of the public service. For instance, patients have been complaining about being treated with disrespect by nurses for years, and the less said about the service at government departments such as Home Affairs, the better.
There is a need for sensitivity training for public servants so that they can begin to understand how people in South Africa deserve to be treated in line with our Constitution.
There is no place for homophobia, sexism, racism, xenophobia, gender or class discrimination, or religious intolerance. There should be no place for any of this among public servants who are, more than anyone else, expected to uphold the Constitution.
This brings me to my unease with the Springboks’ performance. The Constitution outlaws hate speech and discrimination. In their haste to have the best chance of a Rugby World Cup victory - because we think it will momentarily solve our country’s complex social cohesion issues - those with authority have seen fit to allow Eben Etzebeth to represent our country despite allegations of hate speech and assault against him.
Whether he is guilty or not is not the point. The allegations are serious enough to have warranted him being withdrawn from the team before the world event started. Otherwise you are saying to the people who claim to have been the victims of his alleged transgressions that they do not matter.
I am patriotic and I want the Springboks to win, but I feel uncomfortable we should do it while there are such huge question marks over the behaviour of one of our senior players. In some ways, national rugby players are also public servants and they, too, could benefit from sensitivity training.
* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher
** The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of Independent Media