People’s prayers for the army to come to the Cape Flats to fight rampant crime and gang violence could finally be answered.
Police Minister, Fikile Mbalula, yesterday called on the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist police in stemming high levels of crime in the Western Cape and Gauteng.
However, if his request is approved by President Jacob Zuma, deployment of soldiers will only be on a temporary basis.
In a statement, Mbalula says South Africa has been engulfed by an insurgence of extremely violent crime that has made communities feel unsafe.
“The levels of violence in recent months involves the use of weapons of war in the commissions of serious crimes where even innocent bystanders and children have fallen victim of gang-related violent crime. When I visited the community of Elsies River, one community leader referred to the terror caused by gangs as an act of terrorism,” he says.
Mbalula was making reference to a comment made in meeting held with crimefighters in Elsies River after the murder of three-year-old Courtney Pieters.
On Monday, Manenberg mother of three, Malieka Davids, was gunned down in front of her nine-year-old son.
And on Saturday, three police officers were wounded after a dramatic shootout with skollies in Hanover Park.
Mbalula says the police ministry has decided that urgent additional steps must be taken to manage the current scourge of crime in general, including drug-related offences and the negative impact it has on communities.
“Stabilisation and combating of these criminal activities are within the mandate of the SAPS but due to the large groupings and military training of some of the perpetrators, SANDF is requested to assist,” he says.
Police Ministry Spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, says Mbalula has submitted a formal request to Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
“The deployment of soldiers is on a temporary basis, as the duty of policing falls squarely fall within the police. Although we can’t say for how long, definitely it’s a temporal intervention,” he says.
He also confirms that soldiers will not have the power to arrest perpetrators but will merely provide support to police.
Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, says calling in the army is a step in the right direction but a more permanent solution is needed.
Over the years, Zille has made several calls for the army to be brought into the Cape and for specialised gang units to be reinstated.
“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,” said Zille.
“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”.
She cautioned that the army was not a permanent solution to crime and that cops needed to pull up their socks.
“While this will assist SAPS in high-risk areas, it would not be a permanent solution. This means the minister cannot simply absolve himself and SAPS from their constitutional mandate. There remains the need for a permanent solution to deal with violent crime in the Western Cape.”
Zuma’s spokesperson, Dr Bongani Ngqulunga, confirms that while Mbalula has made the request, the final decision rests with the president.
“The process is that Mbalula makes the request to the defence minister who submits the request to the president. As the presidency has not received the request yet, I cannot comment on whether or not the president is likely to authorise is or not,” he said.
Asked how much sending in the army will cost, Mhaga says he cannot comment.
He, however, explains the funds would be sourced from the national treasury.
The army has been deployed to combat gang violence on the Cape Flats in the past.
In April 2015, Operation Fiela was initiated by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Migration and executed by the police and the army.
Together, they knocked down doors and raided buildings.