Despite widespread calls for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to be deployed into gang-infested areas, it seems the official arrival of the army has been met with mixed reaction. After a week of uncertainty as to when the army would be sent to the Cape Flats, there was finally boots on the ground in Manenberg on Thursday. Photos of army trucks and heavily guarded soldiers started filtering in on social media, with residents standing in awe at the presence of the military on their doorstep. Residents reported that soldiers were conducting stop-and-go searches of people and vehicles in the area.
The deployment of the SANDF follows years of community requests as well as civil and political pressure on national government to deploy the army in the Western Cape as a stabilising force to bring to a halt the ever-growing crime rate and increasing gang violence.
However, Tara, a Manenberg resident who is also a member of the Samekom Movement, says that despite the demands for the army to be deployed, her observation is that people are “ambivalent”.
“People were very ambivalent in terms of the arriving of the Defence Force. They were surprised and shocked at the same time. You weren’t sure if the army was welcomed or rejected,” she said.
“What the people on the ground are saying is that they felt the presence of the SANDF was not welcome as some children would be more traumatised. Some people were put out of their vehicles and had their vehicles searched. They say that when there are shootings happening there’s no reaction but when people come innocently from wherever they come from, they are criminalised.”
Tara was also critical of the legitimacy of community policing forums (CPFs), saying that they lack credibility in representing communities.
“Our organisation feels that the community consultation process was not meaningful. We do not see CPFs having the credibility to speak on behalf of communities any longer. The attempts to bring more policing into our communities are ‘kragdadig’ (forceful) approaches by government. Instead of them increasing the attempts to address socioeconomic issues they would rather make sure policing is ‘running the show’,” said Tara.
She indicated that Samekom is attempting to engage with what she called “the main formations” [gangs] to discuss the “differences” that law abiding citizens and gangsters have with one another – an engagement she says will help build one cohesive community. She also denied any validity to the claim that the period of calm in the Manenberg area is due to the presence of the SANDF.
Furthermore, Samekom has released a statement outlining several issues which they feel are important to note:
- “The government was using kragdadigheid and instilling fear into our communities by sending in the army.”
- “Decisions are being taken for the community without the communities participation in the decision. We say Nothing about us without us!”
- “The government is increasing policing as a solution whilst failing to address the socio-economic conditions under which our people live daily.”
- “The government has in the past had the ability to detain, harass and victimised activists who stood up for people’s rights but is surprisingly unable to bring to book those responsible for the violence in our communities.”