I started my police career at the Cambridge Police Station, behind the counter in the charge office. The charge office is the heart of the police. All cases and complaints get registered there, before we booked it out to the detectives and investigation officers for investigation. We held the suspects brought in during the day or night in the police holding cells, which were controlled by the charge officers on duty. It was always good for any young police officer to start his career in the charge office, as you learn to deal with the public and get to know all the different registers kept by the police for all the different offences and complaints.
During those days, a Charge Office Sergeant would manage the charge office and the police officials on duty during his shift included: a charge office reserve, a station guard that carried a shotgun patrolling the police station outside and a patrol vehicle driver who had to attend to complaints in the suburbs in the surrounding area.
By now, I was seventeen years old. Still too young to drive, I could not man the patrol vehicle as a driver. My appointed duties were to take statements, hearing the members of the public’s complaints, and then register these cases in the relevant register kept in the charge office.
One day, a man walked into the charge office. Straightaway I recognised him. He used to be my woodwork teacher at school. He could swing a cane (frequently used for corporal school punishment) and my arse burned often from the hidings I received from him, justly so, as I was quite naughty during his class.
He was distressed and out of breath, reporting his prized Ford Cortina bakkie (LDV) as stolen. I took down his statement and just before he gave me the colour, I interrupted him and said, ‘yes, I know, the cab is light blue and the back is a very dark blue’. He looked at me, smiled, and said,
‘You guys got it back and already arrested the bastards who have stolen it?’
‘No, I know your vehicle. Remember me – I was the one who must have received the most hidings ever from you in your woodwork class.’
I was dressed in a full winter uniform, a long-sleeved shirt, tie, and leather belts. I sensed the uniform confused him and he did not recognise me at first.
Astonished, with his mouth hanging open, he replied,
‘I don’t believe this, but I’m seeing it with my own eyes. You are a cop now, but you were so naughty.’
‘Cops come in all shapes and sizes and from every level of society,’ I laughed.
About a month later, he returned to the station to tell us he found his vehicle. ‘I was driving through the Transkei (a former Republic, the first black homeland to be given independence by South Africa, it lies between KwaZulu Natal and the Kei River) when I spotted my bakkie at a house close to the highway just outside Butterworth with no wheels, resting on bricks.’ he said.
We arranged with the then Transkei police for the vehicle to be collected where it was parked and for the culprits on the premises to be questioned.
I was three months into my police career and living at the single quarter’s police barracks behind the police station. With me on my shift, was a student constable awaiting the next intake at the police college in Pretoria. He was English speaking, and we became best friends. On our days off, he had the use of his dad’s bakkie and we drove around together, going to the beach and just hung out together. He had a driver’s licence. His parents were of German descent, and I visited them as often as I visited my family.