Cape Flats CPFs on army deployment – ‘It’s not the answer’

Residents of Bishop Lavis protesting against crime and gangsterism, September 2018. Photo by Mfundo Mhlanganiso

The call by the Western Cape government for the deployment of the SANDF in crime ridden areas of the City has received mixed reactions from Community Police Forums.

The call for the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in crime ridden areas of the Western Cape has received mixed reactions from community police forums (CPF) in Cape Town. This is not the first time the provincial government has called for the deployment of the army as a protective cover for the police.

In a media statement, the MEC for Community Safety, Albert Fritz, said that the number of violent deaths has increased compared to the same time last year. “Between January and the end of June 2019, there were 1,995 unnatural deaths caused by gunshots and sharp objects. In June 2018 alone, there were 344 such alleged murder admissions. However, in June 2019, this number increased and now sits at 448 admissions,” reads the statement. The numbers are reported by state mortuaries.

The province has called for the deployment of the army “as a peacekeeping force within our communities so that the police are able to pursue arrests and investigations. SAPS officials too often attest to being overwhelmed and understaffed.”

Nyanga precinct is considered to be “the murder capital of the country” as it has held the number one spot on the murder chart for years. Martin Makasi, the chairperson of Nyanga CPF, told Elitsha that they do not believe that the deployment of the army is the answer as it would not deal with the socio-economic problems that fuel crime, gangsterism and murder. “We don’t support the deployment of the army as it is a short-term solution. What we are proposing is that all spheres of government including civil society and business sit down and come up with a solution that will deal with the root cause of all the crime that we see today,” he said. Makasi also said that they are tired of different spheres of government blaming each other instead of working together for the benefit of residents.

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However, Philippi East CPF’s chairperson, Neo Motinyane, said that people in the area need protection and they would accept it whether it is from the police or the army. “The police always complain that they can’t patrol areas like Marikana that do not have roads but the army is used to be in difficult situations and they train in the forest so they would not have a problem patrolling in informal settlements,” he said. Motinyane described the atmosphere as “still tense” in the area following six murders in Marcus Garvey informal settlement at the weekend.

“The army was deployed during apartheid in areas like Gugulethu when the gangs were fighting and it did not end well”

Graham Lindhorst from Bonteheuwel CPF said that they do not support the deployment of the army as they are not trained at policing but they would rather have skilled police that are familiar with the areas they work. “The army was deployed during apartheid in areas like Gugulethu when the gangs were fighting and it did not end well. What we need are police officers who know the area very well and are skilled at doing their job,” said Lindhorst.

Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said that even though he understands the need for people to feel protected by the presence of the army in the community, there are risks involved in their deployment. “They are not trained to do police work and they carry automatic rifles. That could create problems if they are forced to use firearms to protect themselves or act in terms of Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, in that they have to carry out arrests. The army are not trained to arrest and that could lead to people being let off the hook because they were arrested illegally,” he said.

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In a response to Elitsha the spokesperson for the MEC, Cayla Murray, said that the SANDF does have peacekeeping experience. “SANDF troops have extensive experience in peacekeeping. With a total of more than 1,190 SANDF troops stationed in UN peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and South Sudan, South Africa is considered as the 11th biggest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping in Africa and the 17th biggest in the world,” she said. But according to Burger, even though the army is supposed to be trained in police work, “that hardly happens.”

The department quoted examples of the army being deployed during Operation Fiela, where the SANDF was meant to assist the police by providing cordons and contributing to perimeter security. But the legality of these deployments has been challenged. Lawyers for Human Rights took several government departments to court, as well as the Minister of Defence, for deploying the army “without the required notice being given.”

According to Burger, there are international examples, like Brazil and Northern Ireland, of the army being deployed to assist the police. The Brazilian army’s involvement in police operations in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro resulted in a high number of people being killed, according to a report by Al Jazeera.

Story update

During the department’s budget speech in Parliament on Thursday evening, Police Minister, Bheki Cele, announced that the army will be deployed in Cape Town’s gang ridden areas. According to media reports, the deployment will begin as early as Friday.

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