On the 11th of July 2019, it was announced that the South African military will be deployed in Cape Town’s crime-plagued townships. Starting on the 15th of July, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed a battalion to support the city’s struggling police force for three months in identified hotspots.
This is not the first time such an action has been taken. Back in 2017, a similar deployment was made after a surge in violent crime. According to local statistics, between January and June, this year at least 900 people have been murdered in gang violence in the Cape Flats area.
- In 2018, according to The Citizen’s Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, of the world’s 50 most dangerous cities only three were not from the Americas; all three were from South Africa, with Cape Town at 11th overall.
- Albert Fritz, a Western Cape provincial official tasked with ensuring community safety, told the CBC that 1,875 people had been murdered in the past six months in the Western Cape alone.
- Youth unemployment is over 50 percent in the poorest parts of South Africa and the country is the most unequal in the world, according to the World Bank.
Living in a war zone
During a budget vote speech on 11 July, Police Minister Bheki Cele announced the deployment of the military in response to the high number of murders in the Western Cape, including Cape Town, in the past few years. Cele said he and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula requested authorization for the deployment from President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa, the only figure constitutionally authorized to approve such a move, gave the green light.
Normally in South Africa, deploying the army only occurs during the December festive season when crime escalates. However, for some, this was considered an exceptional case and came much too late. JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for the safety and security of Cape Town, said in a statement that hundreds of people had died unnecessarily because of the delay in deploying soldiers to stem the crime. Smith’s party, the Democratic Alliance, had been calling for the deployment for more than a year. Albert Fritz told the CBC that “many of our most vulnerable residents in the province are living in a war zone.”
Police Minister Cele said that the soldiers will assist the police in an operation to recover illegal firearms and drugs in what the Defence Ministry is calling Operation Prosper. The operation will include cordons, searches, observation, foot and vehicle patrols, and air support. Additionally, increased security measures are expected in the coming weeks and months ahead. Brigadier-General Mafi Mgobozi said in a statement that many of the troops involved in the operation were previously deployed in peacekeeping missions in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The SANDF is expected to support police operations in 10 areas, which jointly contribute to 42% of attempted murders in the province. Police Minister Bheki Cele said the “intense deployment” would last three months until “we believe that by the time that time comes, we would have normalised the situation and we’ll sustain that through normal policing.”
‘We are not losing the war, but the situation is bad’
Police Minister Cele said the deployment was part of “extraordinary” measures that needed to be taken to ensure public safety and meant to “stamp the authority of the state”.
The Democratic Alliance party stated that it “trusts that the deployment of the SANDF to various communities in the Western Cape will bring much-needed stability in the Western Cape.”
However, many see sustainability arising only from addressing the root causes of the violence. Gareth Newham at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies told the CBC that “it is a short-term, unsustainable response to a crisis.” In a report published last year by the South African Cities Network, an organisation that promotes urban development highlights gang violence and the supply of illegal arms as key factors in the rising murder rate. This would point to more adequate policing as an important initiative.
Also, a military response may be effective in the short term, but it does not respond to the reasons for the existence of gangs. Numerous deployments will not solve the issues of unemployment, poverty, and drug abuse. To News24 Police Minister Cele said, “we are not losing the war against crime but the situation is bad.” The war against Cape Town’s crime maybe should not be the first war to be fought.
Image: Islam Media Analysis (link)