CAPE TOWN, Feb. 4 (JTA) — The Cape Town Holocaust Center has launched a program to provide sensitivity training for members of the nation´s police force. During the next 18 months, the Center plans to train 3,000 police from Cape Town´s West Metropole district. The Center, which already has an extensive outreach program to the broader community, plans to host police for one-day seminars in which they will confront the issues of racism and xenophobia. "The idea is to make them sensitive to the evils of racism," said Marlene Silbert, the Center´s education director. "We´re looking particularly at diversity, prejudice and discrimination. To their credit, they´re eager to confront these issues." Silbert also is involved with another major project at the Center — the introduction of Holocaust studies as part of the nation´s high school curriculum. She is working with the Department of Education to formulate syllabi for students as well as teacher-training programs. To this end, she has written a manual which has been translated into Afrikaans and Xhosa, one of the country´s major black languages. According to police officials, there is a definite need for the Center´s sensitivity-training program. The deputy area commissioner of the South African police, Sharon Jephta, said that despite the democratic changes that have taken place in the country since the end of the apartheid era, there is still racism in the police force. "They are racist and prejudiced without their even knowing it," she said. "There is a real need for this training to make people more sensitive." The Center held its first seminar for police last week. Attending were top-ranking officials, including commissioners, deputy commissioners and directors. The South African police force, which is encouraging its members to attend, is hoping that enthusiasm for the program will filter down from top brass to the rank and file. Kishor Harri, station commander in the Manenberg neighborhood, an area rife with gang warfare, said he would like to bring his personnel to the workshop. "Further, I would like to bring a group of gangsters from rival gangs here to show them how group identity for wrongful purposes can cause mayhem," he said. At the start of each one-day seminar, participants are taken through the Center´s exhibit about the Holocaust. "This is a useful entry point to confront the issues of racism and xenophobia," Silbert said. "Having witnessed this, they open up about their own experiences of racism in the workshops that follow without being defensive — nothing could have been as bad as what they have just seen." Along with watching video testimonies of five Holocaust survivors, participants in last week´s seminar were addressed by survivor Pinchas Gutter. One member of the group later said that Gutter "really moved me close to tears. I hope God spares the survivors for many more years to share their terrible experiences with us." In workshops that followed, participants discussed racism, prejudice and discrimination within the police force. They also discussed what it was like to be at the receiving end of racist remarks, after which they dealt with ways to combat racism. One participant later summed up the positive feelings that most expressed after the day´s seminar: "I am more enlightened and motivated to do the right thing. It has given me a better understanding of all groups."
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Moira Schneider is a JTA correspondent in South Africa. A law graduate and psychology major, she is the Cape Town correspondent for the South African Jewish Report. She contributes to London's Jewish Chronicle, is a reporter for the Cape Jewish Chronicle and has been published in the Cape Times and Cape Argus.