Sotho, Afrikaans, YiddishShow more Perhaps from Sotho slang legata (plural magata) member of police force, from -gata, -kgata catch (a thief); or adaptation of vulgar Afrikaans gatte (see gat sense 1); perhaps ultimately from Yiddish khates, see Gold quotation 1983 at gattes.
In urban (especially township) English, usually in the plural : the police. Also as singular (rare), a prison warder.
1977P.C. VenterSoweto 153A stranger to the tsotsi’s dangerous world could still save his throat if he has some knowledge of basic words and phrases:...Die Gattes — the police.
[1977J. SikakaneWindow on Soweto 26The Sowetonians call the SAP’s ‘amakgathas’ meaning ‘the arseholes’.]
1979A.P. BrinkDry White Season 84You got a taxi. You’re the first to know when the gattes are coming on a raid, so you can warn your pals.
1983H. Mashabela inFrontline Feb. 38‘How do you know it’s yours?’ one of the three gatas (cops) asked me...Even though there was no doubt this was my jersey, the gatas refused to search for the other articles..The gatas told senior officers they couldn’t trace the culprits.
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