While the South African National Defence (SANDF) received a fairly warm welcome from Cape Flats residents just over a month ago, questions have now been raised over the effectiveness of “Operation Lockdown”.
National Police Minister Bheki Cele pre-maturely announced the deployed of the army to gang-ridden areas of Cape Town in his budget speech on 11 July, which saw the army being deployed the following week to regain the “element of surprise”.
Cele said the SANDF would join a large police contingent to be deployed to several precincts “where people have been dying”. These included: Khayelitsha, Philippi, East Harare, Gugulethu, Mfuleni, Kraaifontein, Mitchells Plain, Bishop Lavis, Delft, Elsies River, Nyanga. The precincts account for several suburbs.
In a statement released by Minister for Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, at the time, the SANDF was ordered to work “in cooperation with the SAPS in the Western Cape Province to combat crime and stabilise the security situation through intelligence-led operations.”
Various officials used key phrases in later statements, particularly the key words “co-operation” and “stabilization”. This includes Cele himself, WC Community MEC Albert Fritz and Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, among others.
The deployment came hot on the heels of several protests by various community policing forums and neighbourhood watch groups which had demanded that the police force be “stabilized”, amid several internal disputes and inadequacies. The groups were motivated by the South African Police Service (SAPS) inability to tackle persistent crime in the province, having emphasized the crucial need for focus in Cape Town.
High rates of unemployment, drug abuse, gender-based violence, access to illegal weapons and ammunition and alleged police corruption were among the driving forces behind the call for drastic action. Head of the Mitchells Plain CPF cluster, Lucinda Evans, noted that the eventual deployment followed years of crime-imbizos, ministerial briefings and community meetings.
In June, the death toll for the year sat at 1,600, with more than half as a result of gang violence. In the weekend before the SANDF was deployed, 33 people were shot and killed, while 18 people were shot in the first weekend of the SANDF employment. Since then, there have been several dozens of violent murders in the same areas that the SANDF were deployed to.
This while the police force remains in tatters, struggling to keep up with unrelenting crime. In a media briefing in July, MEC Fritz and Safety and Security Directorate spokesperson JP Smith, admitted that the police force has several issues to deal with, which the army won’t fix.
These included police in-fighting, under-resourced departments and stations, irrational police to citizen ratio, lack of inter-departmental communication, lack of appropriate detective skills and low conviction rates of repeat offenders.
The persistent crime and shootings have prompted increasing questions-by residents AND those in authority- as to whether the army are not simply acting as “tourist on the Cape Flats”, as suggested by chairperson of the Lentegeur Community Police Forum, Byron De Villiers. De Villiers explained that the SANDF is present in other areas in Mitchells Plain such as Tafelsig and Beacon Valley, but not in Lenteguer which has also experienced shootings.
“We, as a Mitchells Plain Cluster, made a call for the army to come and stabilize our areas. However, it is not effective when the army is there to assist saps but they are merely tourist in the area that stand around. They not being managed properly or given proper direction as to what they need to be doing. Go and (tackle) your problematic houses- the drug dealers and gang leaders- search their houses. Do operations. They (SANDF) are currently being misguided.”
At the beginning of the month, Cele noted that the deployment would likely last for three months. In an article published by the Daily Voice shortly after the SANDF’s arrival, gangsters and gang leaders said they were unphased and would continue their illicit activities once the army has left.
Anti-crime activist from the Bishop Lavis Action Community (BLAC), Abdul Kareem Matthews, explained that the gang culture will not cease easily and that the SANDF might exacerbate an already delicate situation.
“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.”
Over the weekend between 17-18 August, the Western Cape murder rate experienced a decline from 47 murders the previous weekend, to 34. Of these, 21 deaths were as a result of shootings, six as a result of stabbings, and seven as a result of other means.
Five people were murdered in Delft over the weekend, and four in Gugulethu. Three murders each were recorded in Manenberg and Philippi. Khayelitsha, Langa and Harare all recorded two murders each. The remainder of the murders were committed in Athlone, Kraaifontein, Lwandle, Grabouw, Somerset West, Mfuleni, Mitchell’s Plain, Nyanga, Parow, Philippi East, Steenberg, Lingelethu and Samora Machel.
Premier Winde echoed the sentiment of community members who continue to grieve, having added that while a decline in murders is a good sign- it is still not good enough.
“We are relieved to see the number of murders declined over the weekend; however, this is of little comfort when 34 families are currently grieving the loss of a loved one. We must be working towards zero, and nothing more.”
“We are hearing community members on the ground, who were initially positive about the deployment of the army, starting to question their effectiveness, and if communities do not feel safer, then the SANDF and the police are not fulfilling their role and their mandate. The national police’s own motto is to ensure that residents’ “feel safe”, and we are a far cry from that.”
In a statement, MEC Fritz also pointed to Cele’s proud announcement that the intervention has resulted in the arrest of 1000 individuals with outstanding warrants of arrest, “in the most gang-afflicted communities”. Frtiz, however, expressed disappointment that these arrests have not resulted in charges or convictions and urged Cele to make use of his departments “Watching Briefs Unit”.
“I have been informed that the majority of those arrested were released within 72 hours due to detective services’ failure to positively link the arrests to crimes and/or to complete the requisite investigations. I therefore urgently call on Minister Bheki Cele to make use of my Department’s Court Watching Briefs Unit to track arrests made during the deployment, and to ensure they lead to the successful prosecution of guilty parties.”
Fritz added that the SANDF was never a long-term solution and that every effort must be made to advance other crime fighting initiatives. In his statement, Fritz noted that the Transport Management Centre (TMC) in Goodwood is a valuable resource that is not being properly utilized by SAPS.
“As I have highlighted before, our criminal justice system is held hostage by the poor state of detective services and the SAPS. Ultimately, Detectives are responsible for gathering evidence for criminal cases. The quality of their work determines whether a case is solved or dropped. Unfortunately, not only are there resource shortages and a lack of training amongst our detectives, but our detectives are also completely overburdened. More than ever, we need the SAPS’ detective services to step up and ensure that criminals are prosecuted.”
Winde said that an engagement will be held this week to determine what the SANDF have truly accomplished.
“This week, the Western Cape Provincial Cabinet will be meeting, and safety is once again high on the agenda. We will receive a report from the South African Police Services on crime and safety operations and the use of the SANDF. We want to understand what the police, working with the army, are doing to prevent crime and curb violence. Minister of police, Bheki Cele, has to date offered nothing but cold comfort to our communities. Due to the poor management of SAPS, they have lost control of fight against crime.”
Fritz urged all spheres of society to work together and not show fear or favour.
“We must all work together to overthrow the empires of organised crime that plague our province. The ability of gangs to rule through fear, intimidation and murder can only be stopped if all spheres of government, law enforcement, the criminal justice system and communities work together. When we present a united front, we will push back the boundaries of gangsterism and succeed in taking back our communities.”
There is also a R10 000 reward for individuals who provide accurate information on the illegal distribution of firearms.
To report the illegal firearms, the following hotline can be used: 078 330 9333.