SANDF troops arrived in townships of the Cape Flats yesterday, after President Cyril Ramaphosa signed deployment papers and informed Parliament of the order. Photo: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Finally, the crunch of military boots was heard on the pavements of the Cape Flats yesterday, a week to the day that Police Minister Bheki Cele announced they were coming.

There was a celebratory mood in the suburbs of Manenberg, Hanover Park, Nyanga, Philippi East and other areas of the Cape Flats, where residents had been waiting in anticipation for President Cyril Ramaphosa, also the Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, to sign deployment papers and inform Parliament of the order.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Ramaphosa said what many in the province, and Cape Town in particular, had been waiting for: “As required by our constitution I have been in correspondence with the Speaker of the National Assembly and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces with regards to the SANDF deployment in certain areas of the Western Cape.

“The SANDF members will be deployed to support police to restore law and order in communities that are being terrorised by gangsterism.”

Speculation had been rife that troops would be deployed late on Wednesday when it emerged that Ramaphosa would be in Cape Town to respond to the Presidency budget vote and for Mandela Day celebrations.

Making the announcement, he said: “We need to save lives”. However, he downplayed suggestions that the SANDF would remind people of the defence force of the apartheid era, which terrorised people, when he said, “We need to make it very clear that the SANDF is not the defence force of old. It is not the apartheid type of defence force. The defence force of old was the defence force that went into our townships and used our young people as targets for shooting.”

He added: “This is the defence force of the democratic South Africa. A defence force that has been involved in peacekeeping operations in various parts of the continent and which has played a critical role in supporting the SAPS in similar crime-fighting operations. We had one such encounter, if you recall, Operation Fiela.

“At that time the SANDF participated with the police and they did sweep the criminals out. Ultimately the success of this effort depends on the co-operation and contributions of many within various organs of the state, within civil society and within the affected communities.”

In Manenberg, as people celebrated the arrival of the troops, Roegchanda Pascoe of the Manenberg Safety Forum said: “The people welcome the deployment, but I am cautious about celebrating too early before we see what exactly they will do.”

Pascoe recalled a similar operation in Manenberg in 1998, when armed forces were deployed in the area, saying: “What happened at that time taught us a lesson. Very few guns were surrendered and after the army left, violence took off again.”

Pascoe urged the soldiers and the police to search all houses in the Cape Flats for guns. She said: “They must not think that just because a person is an upstanding member of society, they cannot be hiding guns. 

"Some of these people have been so traumatised by the gangs and their violence they will do anything. I even want them to come and search my house; all houses must be searched.”

Cape Argus