By Tasneem Adams
Lucinda Evans literally cried when she heard the news that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would be deployed to the gang-ridden streets of the Cape Flats. It’s a fight she and other community crime fighters have endured for years – one which fell on deaf ears time and time again. As the head of the Mitchells Plain CPF cluster, for Evans and so many others, the struggle to safeguard her community is a deep calling, one that she was never going to give up that easily.
“When we heard that the SANDF would be deployed, we were overjoyed. We are elated because the community echoed the call for the army very loudly and finally, our voices have been heard,” she told VOC on Friday.
“We understand that we didn’t get widespread support in this call…there were lots of debates. But we were determined because we cannot stand by and allow this carnage to continue.”
After months of crime-imbizos, ministerial briefings and community meetings, Police Minister Bheki Cele announced on Thursday evening that President Cyril Ramaphosa had finally given the green light for the army to be sent into crime hotspots. SANDF members will be deployed to give support to the police for at least three months and will conduct cordons, searches, observations and foot and vehicle patrols in gang red-zones. The provincial police commissioner Khehla Sithole said the SANDF formed part of a “high density, integrated, multidisciplinary, coordinated” operation.
Evans emphasised that the SANDF should act as a “force multiplier” to allow the police to serve and protect.
“When I had my meeting with the minister, I made it clear that we do not want the SANDF to replace the police services. It is a force multiplier and the aim is to support what the police has to do on the outer perimeter [of the crime hotspots],” she explained.
For the past two years, the DA and the ANC have been at loggerheads over the SANDF issue, with the ANC rejecting the call for its deployment. The ANC in the Western Cape said the deployment of the army onto its own citizens is a breach of the mandate of the Constitution. During his press briefing, Cele was at pains to say the SANDF decision was not due to pressure by the DA, but rather the agitation by the various community police forums.
Evans categorically stated that their demand was not based on a political agenda.
“As a cluster, we said it needs to be a joint effort between national and provincial government. The reason why we approached the national government is because policing is a national competency. We needed to go to the primary source to bring this carnage to a halt.”
The challenge now, said Evans, is for the national and provincial government to map out a long-term intervention strategy which includes community police forums, the provincial boards and the religious fraternity.
“The churches, mosques and other groups must be part of healing the community beyond the safety aspect,” she urged.
SANDF not a sustainable approach
However, there’s been criticism within some quarters that the decision to install the SANDF is reactionary and will not be effective. Interestingly, calls for the SANDF’s deployment was not supported by the Western Cape Community Police Board in the beginning. However, there was a turnaround amid the recent uptick in bloodshed in the province. Mortuary statistics paint a bleak picture of the current murder rate, with 900 people murdered due to gang violence between January and June this year.
Imraahn Mukkadam from the Elsies River Community Police Forum said the public should be very careful in portraying the army as the “savours”.
“Their role should be purely as a support structure for the South African police service. Trained police personnel are being occupied with mundane functions such as escorting ambulances in emergencies within the red zones and this is a function that ideally could be fulfilled by the army,” he said.
Responding to these concerns, Evans said if the SANDF could be deployed to peacekeeping missions to secure stability and peace in war-torn African nations, then they should protect the citizens within its borders.
“Our SANDF soldiers have not killed anyone in the DRC. So why not the Cape Flats?”
Outspoken anti-crime activist Abdul Kareem Matthews from the Bishop Lavis Action Community (BLAC) believes the deployment of the SANDF to the Cape Flats is doomed to fail.
“The mandate of the SANDF is to secure the borders of the Republic of South Africa and to defend and attack any conventional army that poses a threat. The SANDF is thus trained to shoot to kill and do not possess the powers of the SAPS to investigate crime and arrest suspected criminals in line with the criminal procedure act. So what will the SANDF be doing? The SANDF will merely assist the SAPS to seal off hot zones for a limited period subject to another renewal of required,” he said.
Positioning the SANDF in gang territories will have a ripple effect on the drug trade. Matthews pointed to one scenario.
“Only selected areas will be sealed off. Some arrests will be made but it will be second tier gang leaders and not the real leaders. The leadership of the 26, 27 and 28 gangs will remain intact. Some drugs and guns will be confiscated. The iron capitalist law of supply and demand will kick in. The price of all drugs will go up. Drug addicts will have to escalate robberies in order to secure their drug fix. This will again impact the working class,” he explained.
“Moreover, as the drug supply decreases, and the profits of the gangs are affected, what will happen next? Again, the iron law of capitalist competition will become supreme. We predict that the gangs will either attack SAPS or the SANDF in retaliation or lay low for a while and then attack each other in order to gain control of the supply of drugs.”
According to Mukkadam, a long-term strategy would be that the security cluster law enforcement agencies of the City of Cape Town together with the police amalgamate and form one unit under one command structure.
“Too many law enforcement agencies create chaos and there is not proper coordination,” he said.
“We need the justice cluster to come on board as we need better prosecution. We need to focus on proper rehabilitation and reintegration of repeat offenders. Most importantly we need to focus on the youth at risk, we need to identify vulnerable drug use early and create the necessary diversion programs to prevent them from being recruited into gangs.”
Meanwhile, CPFs and other anti-crime organisations are expected to meet in Paarl this weekend for an anti-crime summit. Evans said while the police’s anti-crime strategy would dominate the discussion, issues such as housing, education, youth upliftment and gender-based violence will be placed on the agenda.
“We are not going to go there and let everyone else determine what we need. We are going to put our demands on the table and ask for timeframes. This is not a talk-shop.”