Police have promised a more strategic approach to the extended military support of an anti-crime programme in Cape Town.
This week, President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the extension of the deployment of more than 1 000 troops to gang-hit parts of the city.
The Mother City — South Africa’s most visited tourist destination — has for almost two months been home to a South African Defence Force (SANDF) battalion; there to help quell gang and gun violence.
Crime statistics released last week showed that 3 974 people were killed in Cape Town in the past financial year.The province has a murder rate of 60 per 100 000 — double the national average.
Western Cape forensic pathologists say next year’s crime figures will be considerably higher, because the latest stats don’t take into account the spike in gang killings experienced in the few months before the SANDF was deployed.
Since July, troops sent to Cape Town have been assisting the South African Police Service (SAPS) in what they have called Operation Lockdown.
Cape Town’s most violent areas appeared to have welcomed the operation of raids, patrols, helicopter drops and roadblocks. It includes soldiers, traffic officials, metro police, law enforcement and various police units.
Despite this, gang violence has continued unabated. In one of the latest incidents, three children, a 10-year-old and two 12-year-olds, as well as a 19-year-old man were gunned down execution-style in Elsies River.
Residents say it’s in connection with disputes over gang turf as the presence of the police and SANDF forces gangsters into other areas.
Elsies River Community Policing Forum spokesperson Imran Mukadam said this could be seen as a warning to rival gangs, and the police.
“The first two weeks we saw an immediate decline in violence, and then an unprecedented flareup. So what the gangs are telling the state is ‘up yours’. They’re saying the state is not a match for us,” he said.
Party politics also has reared its head in the issue and shows key differences between the Democratic Alliance in its local and provincial government, and the ANC national government.
Western Cape community safety MEC Albert Fritz said that, although the DA was supportive of the extension of the SANDF mandate, the province had not been consulted.
Last week, Premier Alan Winde wrote to Ramaphosa, calling for an extension of the military deployment. He was also scheduled to meet Police Minister Bheki Cele to discuss the anti-crime plan.
The meeting did not take place.
“We make every effort in the interest of the people of this province … The politics out of this is absurd because people are dying,” Fritz said.
There are, however, criticisms of how the army is being used. The province is calling for more intensified military involvement in flushing out gangsters.
Fritz said: “We know the SANDF did help. But after the army would leave an area you would have some kind of violence erupting again. There’s a cynical comment in our communities that the army are tourists. They come in for three hours then they leave.”
Cele said the decision to extend the operation was not based on the premier’s request, but on police intelligence indicating that although the plan was working, it needed to be intensified. “There have been assessments on a weekly basis. I’d fly to Cape Town with [police] commissioner [Khehla] Sithole every Monday to assess. We realised we were not making the impact we were supposed to make,” Cele said.
The police minister said the president has agreed to continue the SANDF deployment until March next year.
“Last week, the generals and the ministers of defence and police met. They took us through [what has been happening] … Deployment of the army is one man [the president] and one office only. Nobody else does it. This was no wish granted here. This was an assessment on the ground and the president agreed.”
At an operational level, Sithole said there will be a different approach to the second deployment alongside law enforcement.
“There’s a strategic difference between the two. The first lockdown was a pure stabilisation intervention where we stamped the authority of the state [by] demonstrating the presence of the security forces and the law. Sending the message: ‘This is not a banana republic.’”
Though the first deployment was a shock-and-awe operation, Sithole said the second round of Operation Lockdown would be more tactical.
“We are going to be moving away from the hardcore operation … the second lockdown is directed at normalisation interventions. This means we’re planning the normalisation strategy. We will have the massive mobilisation of communities and multidisciplinary collaboration.”
So far, several hundred arrests have been made, and police say they’ve been targeting mid-level gang leaders while building cases against gang bosses.
Asked for arrest numbers and other information, the Western Cape police said information would only be distributed by the police ministry at a later stage.
But over the past weekend before the first SANDF deployment expired on the September 16, police say 395 people were arrested, including 191 people with outstanding warrants of arrest.
“We are at a level where we have uncovered the modus operandi and we have begun to take down the strategic criminals for both the drug business as well as the gang business,” Sithole said.