Dinah Eppel

“We will take the minutes as read,” says the CPF chairperson from his seat, waving two typed pages in the air.

A heavy, solid, silence presses against the words.

It is 1996. This is one of the first CPF meetings to be held in our town. CPF stands for Community Policing Forum.

A table and two chairs are at one end of the room, and several rows of chairs have been set out facing the table. The room is full. Standing room only.

Chairperson, Counselor Pierre Koep, a short, dapper man with a well-trimmed white beard continues diligently…. “Item one on the agenda….”

The secretary, Captain Martin, a policeman, is seated next to him, feigning indifference. They discuss the item with each other for a few minutes.

A hand is raised hand from the floor.

“Tolika”

“What?”

“Tolika!”

“What?”

Someone says: “MamaKota is asking for a translation. She does not speak English.”

There is a moment of surprised silence. Serious consultation in isiXhosa, heads looking around to see who is there. “Bukelwa! Bukelwa will translate.”

Bukelwa moves to the front of the room and stands to one side of the table, hands held in front of her, waiting.

Mr Koep continues his discussion of item 1 of the agenda, politely, obediently, stopping after each sentence for Bukelwa to translate.

A hand from the floor stops the proceedings.

“Will the chairperson please start the meeting with a prayer, because that is the way it is done?”

Koep falters, but nods.

Umfundisi stands, taking off his hat. We all stand. The lengthy translated prayer thanks the Almighty God for this opportunity to meet, and asks Him to be with us in our hearts, as we make the decisions that will have to be made. Amen.

We sit down again.

Koep rises.

A hand goes up.

“Please will the chairperson read through the minutes of the last meeting… from the beginning? Members want to know what happened, who was there, and what was decided.”

The chairperson, trapped between the past and the future of his country, holds tightly onto his patience.

“Minutes of the meeting of the Greater Plettenberg Bay Community Policing Forum held on Tuesday 12 August 1997 at the office of the mayor.”

“Ingxelo yentlanganiso yaCommunity Policing Forum yaGreater Plettenberg Bay, ngolwesibini, 12 ka Ogasti, 1997, e-offisini kwemeyara.”

 Sentence by sentence, the minutes are translated by Bukelwa.

The meeting starts coming alive. There are nods, grunts, murmured asides. A sigh of satisfaction rolls around the room as the minutes are finished being read.

The people have been there for over an hour.

Mr Koep asks if the meeting can continue.

There is a hand from the floor.

“RDP policy says that a counselor in the municipality may not also be a chairperson of a civic forum like the CPF. This is because there may be a conflict of interest, as the forum advises the counselors.”

Mr Koep is now overwhelmed. Caught and helpless, he asks if we can “please, just finish this meeting first?”

“No. Mr Koep can come and sit in the audience with us, and Jeffrey Rangula, the vice-chair will take his place.”

Koep storms out of the room.

Jeffrey takes his place at the table.

A member of the audience then proposes that the meeting elect a secretary from the floor, because we do not think the police should hold the secretariat function of this civic forum. The motion is carried.

Capt. Martin leaves the table, slowly.

I am elected secretary. I join Jeffrey.

Jeffrey welcomes everyone to the meeting, thanks the members for their confidence in him, and promises to do his best to lead this important forum on behalf of the whole community.

He returns to the first item on the agenda. The meeting moves forward. Bukelwa continues to translate.

This time from isiXhosa into English, especially for me.