Cape Town - Army deployment in gang hot spots around Cape Town is a long overdue necessity to try and crack down on "genocide" at the hands of gangsters, say residents.
However, some have cautioned that soldiers may not be welcome in certain areas where residents have become fed up with police officers who cannot seem to quell gang violence.
On Tuesday evening, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, in an extreme move, announced that he had requested the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to be deployed in the Western Cape and Gauteng to help crack down on violent crimes.
“Stabilisation and combating of these criminal activities are within the mandate of the South African Police Service [SAPS] but due to the large groupings and military training of some of the perpetrators, the SANDF is requested to assist,” he said.
Gang violence was a major problem in the Western Cape, while violent crimes were generally a problem in Gauteng.
On Wednesday SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi was not immediately available for comment.
News24 understands he was in a meeting to discuss the army deployment.
Some residents in gang hot spots around Cape Town, who over the years have repeatedly called for army intervention, cautiously welcomed Mbalula’s announcement.
Premier Helen Zille, who has also repeatedly called for SANDF deployment, welcomed Mbalula’s request, but warned that it would not “absolve” him from coming up with more permanent solutions to tackle crime.
Sources with close ties to policing said Mbalula’s request for the SANDF’s intervention hinted that violence was out of control and he perhaps acknowledged police alone could not deal with this.
Abie Isaacs, chairperson of the Mitchells Plain community police forum, said it had for months been calling for a stronger policing plan to tackle gang violence.
‘Genocide at its worst’ – 20 killed in a month
He estimated that in September alone about 20 people were killed in gang-related incidents in Mitchells Plain, which is about 22km from the Cape Town city centre.
“The military has a particular mandate and that’s to protect the South African border. But this is genocide at its worst,” Isaacs said.
“A year ago we were not convinced the SANDF would deal with the genocide. But from August up until now things have become worse. We now fully support the motion [to deploy the army] by Fikile Mbalula.”
Ebrahim Abrahams, of the Hanover Park community police forum, on Wednesday cautioned that gang violence in the area had reached such an extent that many residents were fed up with police.
Residents turning on police
Hanover Park, a suburb about 16km from the Cape Town city centre, is one of the most volatile gang hot spots in the province.
“This [if the army is deployed] is not going to be easy. Communities have started turning on the police. The army will just be seen as a show of force,” Abrahams said.
In September, shocking video footage of apparent gangsters turning on and then shooting at police in Hanover Park emerged in an incident in which a teen was killed and officers injured.
Abrahams said any successful intervention would be welcome.
“The army will be welcome if it can alleviate any crime,” he said.
Abrahams said there had been no consultation with the community police forum about the possible deployment of soldiers.
“[Mbalula] is maybe on the right track, but he needs to consult with us,” he said.
Johan Burger, an independent consultant in crime and policing who was previously a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said Mbalula’s call for army deployment was viewed as an exception to international rule.
“There’s always an exception to the rule, for example, if you have a volatile situation and complete lawlessness,” he said.
Burger said army members should ideally be deployed for a short period to stabilise an area and bring calm.
He said it was important to remember that military personnel would not be deployed to do the work of the police.
“The military are trained differently and are armed differently to police,” Burger said.
“Police are trained in the use of minimum force. The military is trained in an opposite way.”
Military personnel would ideally create the space for police to investigate crimes, instead of simply patrolling areas.
Burger said Mbalula’s call for SANDF assistance was “really revealing” in that he had acknowledged the number of people being murdered and gone ahead with what an opposing political party wanted.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), via the Western Cape government, has for years been calling on President Jacob Zuma to deploy the army in the province.
It was announced on Monday that Zille would, at the next Cabinet sitting, table a proposal for the deployment of SANDF members to intervene in gang violence.
On Wednesday, Zille’s office said it welcomed Mbalula’s announcement that he had requested army deployment.
SAPS ‘under resourcing crisis’
But Zille said police still faced other major problems.
“While we have enjoyed a good working relationship with SAPS at provincial level, much needs to be done to boost police resources and bolster crime fighting efforts,” she said.
“The fact is half of all murders occur in just 7% of Western Cape precincts – the same areas where police resources are lacking. This under resourcing crisis remains the domain of Minister Mbalula and national SAPS, where the control and operational mandate over policing lies.”
Zille said it was “unfathomable” that police planned to cut 3 000 officers from the Western Cape.
She called on Mbalula to reinstate specialised gang units, which she said were suddenly disbanded several years ago.
3 000 possible police job cuts
According to the police’s 2017-2018 annual performance plan, due to budget issues the department planned to reduce personnel from 194 431 in 2016/2017 to 191 431 in 2019/2020. This would be a decrease of 3 000 police officers.
It did not specify the Western Cape as being the province where officers would be reduced.
The annual said police would ensure there was capacity to manage public disorder.
“The republic is currently experiencing an upsurge in violent incidents which is requiring urgent additional interventions from SAPS,” it said.
Police planned to expand public order policing and re-establish certain units in Cape Town, Durban and Nelspruit.
Repeated calls for SANDF intervention
Zille has before called for army intervention.
In July 2012, Zille wrote to Zuma asking for him to deploy SANDF members in gang hotspots Lavender Hill and Hanover Park.
“While the South African Police Service have deployed extra resources to these areas, gang violence has continued unabated. It is clear that the current situation has become an emergency and is beyond the capacity of the SAPS to control. They need the support of the SANDF to restore order in these suburbs,” she wrote.
In August 2013, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and Zille also issued a joint statement on requests for SANDF deployment.
“We have repeatedly requested President Zuma to employ the SANDF to stabilise gang hotspot areas so that police are freed up to investigate crimes and bring gang members to justice,” this statement said.
“These requests have been turned down.”
In 2015, the police ministry had said it did not believe deploying the army was necessary to help quell gang violence.
That same year army members were temporarily deployed to certain hot spots, including in Manenberg, one of the Western Cape’s most volatile gang areas, as part of anti-gang strategy named Operation Fiela.
But days later, when the personnel had left, gun battles again broke out. DM
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