The decision to deploy troops in some Cape Flats townships is bipartisan, supported by both the ANC and the DA, plus many township residents.
Nevertheless, it is sad that this has to be done four decades after the popular 1980s slogan: “Troops out of the townships!”
The Marikana massacres - committed by a paramilitary police unit with military weapons - stand as a sombre warning of the dangers of militarising any situation.
Soldiers’ training enables them to guard police stations, railway lines, roadblocks, and escort ambulance staff. But soldiers’ only weapons are rifles, whose high velocity bullets ricochet in street situations. Soldiers are not trained as detectives, nor to disperse a riot with minimum force.
Now is the time to implement longer-term solutions.
First, Cape Town has less police officers per 10 000 civilians than the national average. With our myriad gangs, it is essential that the government allocates to Cape Town more police officers until we exceed the national average ratio of police to civilians.
Second, our democratic past has shown a number of useful programmes from both the province and City, but these stopped either when funds ran out, or when the party in power changed.
The Bambanani Project - in effect neighbourhood watch or police reservists on a stipend - needs to be revived, and up-scaled considerably.
Third, the “Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading” project needs to be revived, made permanent, and also enhanced in its scale right across the Cape Flats.
Fourth, we witness the imaginative Peace Ambassador project in Hanover Park.
This Peace Ambassador project needs to be replicated in all the other townships, and sponsored as a permanent programme, drawing in civil society.
Fifth, and most important of all, these projects are all haunted by one limitation: townships only get gangs forming when the local unemployment rate is over half of all persons, including young men. No drug dealer will stop selling, no criminal will stop mugging, as long as their only alternative is unemployment.
The Expanded Public Works Programme and the Community Public Works Programme need to be implemented on a significantly larger scale within each township. Whether Working on Water (chopping down invasive vegetation), or guarding schools, railway stations, and overnight rolling stock, there is enough useful work to hire all unemployed youth between 18 and 35 years old.
Even though funding is tight, this is essential for everyone’s safety.
Franklin Roosevelt’s alphabetical agencies did this throughout the 1930s to get the US back on its feet. Now is the time for our national, provincial, and metro governments to follow suit.
* Keith Gottschalk, Claremont.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.