SANDF members patrol Tafelsig in Mitchells Plain, above and below. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
SANDF members patrol Tafelsig in Mitchells Plain, above and below. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Army's focus on soft targets leaves Cape Flats residents sceptical

By Rebecca Sibanda Time of article published Sep 3, 2019

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It has been more than a month since the most recent deployment of the SANDF to the gang-ridden Cape Flats.

On the one hand, Cape Town is one of Africa’s most popular tourist spots - and on the other it has one of the highest murder rates (more than 60 per 100000) in the world.

The SANDF was deployed on June 18 by many sources for three months. According to the president’s letter to Parliament, the deployment was to run from July 18 to September 16, just under two-months. This gives the SANDF significantly less time to execute its mandate.

Contrary to the expectations of many members of the public and officials, who consistently called for the deployment, there has been little improvement to the lives of those affected.

The first weekend after the deployment was the only one marked by a decrease of murders (the most common measure of success of efforts to counteract violence). But still 25 people died.

The numbers quickly returned to the range prior to the deployment of 46, 41, 47 and 34 deaths over the weekends that have followed.

Again, this is only an indication of the number of murders. For a clearer picture, a more holistic evaluation of criminal activity is required.

Despite the presence of the soldiers, life in the Cape Flats has remained relatively unchanged, understandably casting doubt on the wisdom of the deployment.

Reports of only 300 troops being deployed versus the 1320 that were promised, together with limited patrolling hours and absence during the hours when violence is most likely to occur, have contributed to the public’s scepticism.

On the one hand, Minister of Police Bheki Cele announced that upward of 1000 arrests of criminals had been made since the deployment, but alluded to the possibility of an extension of the deployment.

Premier Alan Winde has indicated frustration at the lack of information regarding the effectiveness of the deployment from SAPS.

Among the many questions that arise is why the murder rate has continued to spike when there are so many arrests? Another question is why, if the deployment of the SANDF was well-advised and temporary in nature, there should be an extension of it? Finally, why has no information been made public as to the effectiveness of the SANDF? And what is the SAPS’ security plan once the army withdraws?

To fully answer these questions, one must understand the relationship between the SANDF and police.

According to section 19 of the Defence Act, read with section 201(2)(a) of the Constitution, the army may be deployed into civilian areas in co-operation with SAPS, on authorisation of the president.

The troops deployed, in this case 1320, acquire the same authority as police officers for the duration of their deployment. This includes search and seizure, as well as arrest and detention of civilians, bearing in mind that soldiers are trained for warfare and the use of extreme force, not for community policing, where the standard is a minimum use of force.

In addition, the human rights instruments governing war and domestic policing are vastly different.

It’s also worth noting that the legislation doesn’t speak to what is happening behind the scenes to address the scourge that is gangsterism and the related violence while the army patrols.

Calls by the premier and others have been made for the police to report back and make public the effectiveness of the deployment.

The alarming lack of information concerning the actual aim of the deployment, particularly once the army withdraws, suggests a knee-jerk reaction to fight violence with violence or a display of force.

The reason the SANDF was deployed is the established under-capacity of the SAPS, particularly in the Western Cape, where criminal elements outnumber police officials. This is in conjunction with the poor and unequal allocation of police resources, as was determined by the Social Justice Coalition and Others v Minister of Police and Others case last year.

"Despite the presence of the soldiers, life in the Cape Flats has remained relatively unchanged, understandably casting doubt on the wisdom of the deployment," writes Rebecca Sibanda. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

The Equality Court found that there was a stark under-allocation of resources in the poorer areas (where gang violence is pervasive) of the Western Cape compared with the more affluent areas. Further, the court found that the intersectionality of the discrimination included race and social origin, largely due to the remnants of apartheid spatial planning, which resulted in the concentration of black and coloured people in these poor areas.

Simply deploying more police resources into the affected areas will not serve as a panacea and neither will the deployment of the SANDF.

In spite of this ruling, there’s been no progress in terms of the reallocation of police resources.

Operation Prosper, as this deployment is called, is not the first time the army has been deployed into civilian areas to assist police.

In January 2012, the army was deployed to the Cape Flats to address gang-related violence.

It was deployed again in the Cape Flats on June 30, 2015, as part of an ongoing collaboration to fight organised crime. The deployment, Operation Fiela, was extended into 2016. The army was also deployed in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in 2015 following xenophobic violence.

Where there were clearer objectives, the deployments achieved their goals; but in the Western Cape, gang-related violence is a symptom and not the main cause of violence. Once the army leaves, the situation quickly reverts to what it was.

Continuous engagement with the communities where the army has been deployed paints an interesting picture. Community Policing Forums (CPFs) have indicated that while they welcomed the deployment, they’ve not seen the impact they hoped they would.

The army has been, according to the CPFs, addressing soft targets such as shebeens when the residents would rather they focus on guns and drugs.

The communities know who the criminal elements are, and it’s disconcerting that few of these individuals have been arrested. They too have raised questions about what happens after the army leaves.

This past week, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula acknowledged the main issue with the deployment by stating that the SANDF was never designed or intended to be utilised internally.

The bottom line is that the deployment has been carried out in a non-transparent matter, with few indicators made available in terms of evaluation and monitoring.

According to the Institute of Security Studies, it’s important to use factors other than the number of murders a week to evaluate the impact of the deployment, as more than murder takes place in these areas.

Without these, it’s difficult to validate the deployment, particularly where a plethora of evidence exists globally that militarised policing is never a long-term solution for violent areas. Hence, it’s important that for the duration of the deployment there is more transparency, especially on what the end game for the operation is.

* Rebecca Sibanda is a legal officer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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