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Premier Helen Zille’s call to President Jacob Zuma to deploy the army to deal with gang violence on the Cape Flats has sparked a row, with the Provincial Community Policing Forum Board accusing her of politicising gang violence.
Zille wrote to Zuma on Monday requesting him to deploy the SANDF in co-operation with the SAPS in the prevention and combating of crime and maintenance of law and order in Lavender Hill and Hanover Park.
Hanif Loonat, chairman of the Provincial Community Policing Forum Board, which is the umbrella body for community policing forums in the province, said: “Zille is politicising the issue. She has been police-bashing for the last two weeks. This is showing gangsters that we are not united.
“Police should not always be blamed. There are residents protecting gangsters. I don’t think we are here to show the world we have bad policing – something Zille seemingly wants to show. It undermines policing in the country.”
He said provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer, Zille, Community Safety MEC Dan Plato and the board should jointly find a solution to gang murders in townships.
In her letter to Zuma, Zille stated: “There has been a serious spike in gang violence in some Cape Town suburbs in recent months during which at least 23 people, including seven children, have died.
“Of the total number of deaths, 17 have occurred in Hanover Park and Lavender Hill alone. Many of the dead were innocent bystanders, caught in the crossfire.”
“While the South African Police Service have deployed extra resources to these areas, gang violence has continued unabated. It is clear that the current situation has become an emergency and is beyond the capacity of the SAPS to control. They need the support of the SANDF to restore order in these suburbs.”
Institute of Security Studies senior researcher Johan Burger said deployment of the army could only take place under exceptional circumstances such as a complete breakdown of public order or a threat to the security of the state. Sending soldiers to help combat the gang problem did not constitute an exception because provincial police should be able to deal with the issue and, if they struggled with resources or manpower, could ask the national commissioner to have resources called in from other provinces.
“While the presence of the military can be reassuring to the people, their role must be spelled out clearly. Soldiers are trained and equipped differently,” Burger said.
Asked about occasions where the army was deployed during the festive season and the previous local government elections, Burger said that while it could be argued that police resources had been stretched thin during the election, having soldiers on the streets during the festive season was wrong.
“During the last festive season there were incidents where they used excessive force and where they operated without the police,” he said.
Burger said Zuma was authorised to order the army’s deployment, but could do this only after consultation with the police and defence ministers. Zuma had to specify where, when and the purpose of deployment, and has to give Parliament reasons for having sent in the army.
Zille stated in her letter that the law authorised Zuma to employ the force in co-operation with the police.
“By authorising the temporary employment of the SANDF into Hanover Park and Lavender Hill, a space will be created for the SAPS to do their jobs more effectively, which is to ensure that gang members behind these violent acts are caught and brought to justice,” she wrote.
The employment of soldiers in gang hot spots such as Lavender Hill during December, argued Zille, saw a “marked improvement in safety levels” and a decrease in gang violence.
She said residents attributed this to the increased visibility of law enforcement agencies, in particular, members of the defence force.
“It is clear from the escalation in gang violence in recent weeks that additional resources, including the SANDF, need to be deployed immediately in order to assist the SAPS to restore law and order and prevent any further people being injured or killed,” she said.
Police spokesman Andre Traut referred enquiries to the Presidency, whose spokesman, Mac Maharaj, was not available by deadline.