Cape Flats: Addressing violence with violence is no solution

In a country in which violence has already been entrenched as a means of communication, military intervention poses myriad challenges and risks to the targeted communities. (David Harrison/M&G)

In a country in which violence has already been entrenched as a means of communication, military intervention poses myriad challenges and risks to the targeted communities. (David Harrison/M&G)

What does it mean when a country resorts to military intervention in an attempt to address violence and criminal activity within its domestic sphere? Is this an admission of failure by the police? Or a failure of the capacity of the criminal justice system to diligently investigate, prosecute and convict where necessary? What exactly is South Africa ineptly admitting to, here?

These are the questions that immediately come to mind when thinking about the deployment of the more than 1 000 soldiers to help quell gang violence and crime in the impoverished parts of Cape Town.

What are the anticipated outcomes when the military intervenes? Is there an expectation to ultimately end gang violence in the Cape Flats? Or is it a deliberate mechanism to silence residents into fear? What will happen after the “perceived sense of security” provided by the presence of the military is withdrawn and the army is pulled from that community?

Is there an expectation of peace after the military intervention? Who will craft and design that peace? Remember, in a military intervention, there are always winners and losers. Who then will emerge as winner? Who will lose? In my view, it is an uncalculated gamble. A zero sum game, altogether.

In essence, it would seem this militarisation fails to take into consideration the country’s historical context and realities.
South Africa comes from a painful history of military presence in townships, especially in the 1960s and 1970s and during the state of emergency in the 1980s. This remains a great source of trauma and woundedness for the many black South Africans who witnessed it. Many still recall the trauma and violent nature of community life during apartheid, where the regime was particularly known for its heavy reliance on the armed forces to maintain its control and squash any form of resistance.

It, therefore, seems less prudent for the state, in 2019, to still consider military intervention as a plausible solution to quell the gang-related violence in the Cape Flats. The less calculated resolve to resort to instilling fear and silencing citizens instead of finding solutions to address pervasive societal ills — mainly caused by systematic inequalities, poverty and unemployment — is of much concern.

The military is an institution whose traditional function is to inflict physical violence and death on those deemed to be enemies of the state. In this context, it is very challenging to perceive the use of an institution that is used for coercion as an instrument that can help to promote the sustainable peace in the Cape Flats. This is a regression.

In a country in which violence has already been entrenched as a means of communication, such an intervention poses myriad challenges and risks to the targeted communities. Although it might be anticipated that the military will conduct its operation and leave, it may actually sow more seeds of resentment, hatred, anger and violence in the same communities it is meant to serve.

This is even more so for marginalised groups. In most instances, these are women and girls, who often find themselves at the receiving end of the violence. This is because when violence manifests, it does not only do so through the exchange of gunfire but in other forms. These include rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence and murder. These are some of the repercussions or after effects of violence and a system where the rule of law is being compromised.

Is South Africa ready to take itself to such a violent place again? A place where, once again, violence becomes a language to communicate, solve and silence problems? The message being communicated here is that, like has been done in the past, we will also use violence to deal with your violence and criminal activities. South Africa does not need this.

What the state is trying to achieve with this intervention, is a negative form of peace. According to Johan Galtung, the father of peace studies, negative peace refers to the absence of violence, while positive peace is about the presence of harmony that meets the different understanding and needs of a society. What is needed as a long-term solution in the Cape Flats is not a negative state of peace but positive peace.

The existence of gang violence in South Africa, particularly in Cape Town, is an indication of underlying structural and systemic challenges that need to be addressed. It is critical for the state to understand why communities resort to violence and gangsterism as a language of communication to effectively address challenges and transform communities.

There is also a need to try to understand what is it that is being expressed through the use of gang violence by the different actors and players involved.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to engage community members, including gang members themselves, to better understand the dynamics at play. For it is through engagement with the community that solutions will be found. And this will not be a one-day- or one-night-fits-all approach. It requires a committed state that is looking for long-term, lasting solutions.

Finally, as South Africa is currently in the process of finalising an implementation framework on United Nations Resolution 1325, which specifically calls for gendered responses to peace and security, the country cannot surely afford to drop the ball at this point.

Again, at the beginning of this year, South Africa officially assumed its seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2019-2020. This comes with a lot of responsibilities and expectations.

Africa and the world are looking for sustainable solutions to violence — solutions that do not involve using violence to address violence.

Nonhlanhla Sibanda-Moyo is a gender specialist at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. 

Nonhlanhla Sibanda-Moyo

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