Little clarity on measuring SANDF performance on Cape Flats

By Rebecca Davis 15 August 2019

Members of the South African National Defence Force at the Mitchell’s Plain Base Camp. Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the base camp on 12 August 2019 to receive a report on the deployment of troops in the area. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

With 47 murders recorded on the Cape Flats over the most recent weekend, the South African National Civic Organisation is calling for authorities to face the music over what they say is a clear indication that the deployment of the army is not working. But the question at the heart of this is complicated: how should the ‘success’ of such an operation be measured?

The Western Cape chapter of the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) has called for the “immediate dismissal” of Police Minister Bheki Cele and Western Cape MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz.

In a statement on Wednesday 14 August, Sanco called for the two politicians to be axed as a result of their “failure to implement working solutions” for ridding communities on the Cape Flats of gangs and crime.

The bad advice to deploy the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as a quick-fix solution to the Western Cape province, has had no meaningful impact or improvement to safety and security of our communities,” Sanco said.

As evidence, the organisation cited the most recent statistics supplied by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde’s office based on forensic services reports, which recorded 47 murders in the Cape metro over the long weekend of 9-11 August.

Sanco claimed the presence of the army on the Cape Flats had simply led gangs to adopt “alternative means of conducting their criminal activities”, and that suspects arrested during raids were being set free shortly after being apprehended rather than “facing the full might of the law”.

The Western Cape government, meanwhile, admits that it has no clear sense of whether the army deployment is having a positive effect — or even what exactly the soldiers are doing.

We would very much like to understand the impact the SANDF is having here and how operations are being run, but we are being actively barred from any of these discussions or engagements,” Premier Winde told Daily Maverick.

We’ve heard reports from residents that the SANDF are only being deployed for a few hours at a time; however, we are not privy to any operational information.”

The SA Police Services did not respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment on Wednesday.

But two days previously, as reported by Daily Maverick, minister Cele gave a media briefing on the progress of the SANDF deployment in which he said that joint police-military operations had thus far produced 1,004 arrests and seen the confiscation of 45 firearms and 78 knives.

Winde doubts, however, that counting arrests can give an accurate picture of progress made in bringing safety to the ganglands.

The real metric would be how many of the arrests made have resulted in convictions, as it does not help that SAPS are making arrests only for criminals to be released back onto the streets,” he said.

Winde said from the perspective of the provincial government, the “best avenue” available at present “is to use the data provided to us by forensic services for murders”.

But the murder tally itself only offers an incomplete picture of the situation, he acknowledges.

Ultimately, for us, the [best] measure would be reports from community members that they feel safer,” Winde said.

The question of how to measure the success, or lack thereof, of the army deployment is a complicated one — and part of the problem is that there appears to be little agreement on the most appropriate metric to use.

Is it the number of murders, on which Sanco relies when it terms the military operation a failure already?

Is it the number of arrests, which police seem to be banking on to prove progress has been made?

Or, as Winde suggests, is it a more intangible measurement: how safe the affected communities feel as a result of the army’s presence?

One issue, says Eldred de Klerk from the Africa Centre for Security and Intelligence, Praxis, is that there was no attempt made on the part of the security cluster to set realistic expectations in advance of the military deployment.

The rationale, objectives, outcomes and implementation of deploying the SANDF in support of the police, as asked for by many in affected communities, were not discussed or ‘talked through’ with the identified affected communities,” De Klerk told Daily Maverick.

He suggests that public expectations, fuelled by “names such as Operation Lockdown and the talk of going to war with criminals”, were of the state wresting back control of neighbourhoods under siege from gangs.

Instead, what they have experienced thus far is a moving feast of targeted police operations seemingly amounting to no more than ‘hitting’ a neighbourhood and ‘running’ off to the next,” says De Klerk.

Even if statistics were to show a new drop in the murder rate, he suggests, this is by no means a reliable indicator of a change to the status quo. Gangs could simply be on hiatus, waiting out the known departure of the army after three months.

The success of a police operation is more than a numbers game. It is more than how many arrests were made, how many firearms seized and drugs confiscated or how many murders happened.”

De Klerk says a truly successful policing operation would extend well beyond the work done by the police or military and include departments responsible for health, welfare, transport, housing, education and so on. It would also see the provision of essential municipal services.

In addition, regular updates should be given to affected communities.

Informed communities who feel included, who participate and who are involved are less likely to judge unduly,” De Klerk says.

African Defence Review editor Darren Olivier expresses similar concerns over the lack of clarity of purpose clouding the operation from the beginning and the “inflated expectations” created by those who directed the deployment.

Olivier says the number of soldiers sent to 10 crime hotspots — just above 1,300 — is too small for the “sustained dense patrols” which might be useful. In addition, military activities in civilian contexts are limited by law to supporting police — for instance, during raids and arrests — rather than carrying out independent operations.

At best the arrests carried out and the weapons confiscated during the raids might end up having some impact over the longer term, but we’ll likely only see those effects months from now,” Olivier told Daily Maverick.

It will also depend on how senior those arrested were, how disruptive their absence will be and the quality of the cases brought against them.”

Ultimately, says Olivier, the only long-term metric for success would be “a socio-economically integrated Cape Town” — something the current police-military operations cannot provide.

Olivier suggests that one of the most plausible outcomes of the Cape Flats army deployment could be its use as a cautionary tale.

He says: “We can only hope that this serves as a lesson to national and local government that you can’t just send the military into the Cape Flats hoping it’ll fix decades of neglect, poor governance, and apartheid spatial planning”. DM


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