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‘Army is not the answer’

Cape Town - 120711 - The National Police, Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the new National Police Commissioner, Mangwashi Victoria “Riah” Phiyega, accompanied by other top cops, visited gang hotspot areas in Lavender Hill and Steenberg. Reporter: Neo PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE

Cape Town - 120711 - The National Police, Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the new National Police Commissioner, Mangwashi Victoria “Riah” Phiyega, accompanied by other top cops, visited gang hotspot areas in Lavender Hill and Steenberg. Reporter: Neo PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE

Published Jul 12, 2012

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Even though most people in gang-ridden areas have appealed for the SANDF to be deployed, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Wednesday said it was not an option.

Speaking after a visit to the family of eight-year-old Zunaid McKenzie who was shot in gang crossfire in Steenberg last month, Mthethwa said he was perturbed by how people in the Western Cape wanted to deal with the situation.

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“If people don’t have much to say about safety they must just shut up because they are not helping,” he said.

He said safety and security must not be turned into political matters. “The army doesn’t have what the police have… water cannon and rubber bullets… forget about the army, really.”

On Monday, Premier Helen Zille wrote to President Jacob Zuma asking for defence force members to be deployed in Lavender Hill and Hanover Park because of the “serious spike” in gang-related deaths.

But Mthethwa said he did not know about the letter.

Meanwhile, Shamiela McKenzie, Zunaid’s sister, said she was glad the minister was taking an interest in the area and that it was “unexpected”.

McKenzie said people were still too scared to let their children play outside in Melody Square, but she agreed with Mthethwa that bringing in the army was not the solution.

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“What will the army do? They will just shoot the gang members and they will shoot back.”

Mthethwa called on the City of Cape Town and the provincial government to come on board in order to help plan a multi-disciplinary approach for dealing with gang violence.

“The police alone will never succeed in fighting crime. There are limits even in the police (force). Police arrest you and take you into custody then the criminal justice system must take over,” he said.

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Mthethwa said instead of establishing separate gang and drug units, the capacity of police investigation teams needed to be strengthened.

He said police were currently dealing with 41 gang-related cases, seven people had been given life sentences as a result of police investigations and 7 000 firearms had been confiscated.

There were also socio-economic issues, such as poverty, that needed to be dealt with. “If a gogo no longer had to struggle for food, she won’t allow gangsters to hide in her house.”

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He appealed to the City of Cape Town, provincial government and churches to work with the police to deal with the issue.

Steenberg CPF head Kevin Southgate said the call for the army was because residents were frustrated and had lost confidence in the police.

Southgate also told the minister that they had stopped patrolling after their member, Soraya Nordien, was killed in her home last week.

“We have started a stakeholder forum where the community can flesh out their problems and the police and provincial government can tell us what they are doing to solve them,” Southgate said.

In response to Southgate’s concerns, police commissioner Riah Phiyega said the police and residents needed to work together instead.

Phiyega said the gangsters came from families and that families needed help because “the family structure was broken and we need to work together to pull every structure in society together to deal with the (gang) problem”.

Meanwhile, Cosatu said on Wednesday Zuma must intervene in the Western Cape’s gang and drug crisis.

In an open letter, Cosatu’s provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich asked Zuma to urge Zille to display greater leadership before it was too late.

“There is a clear absence of leadership in this matter of gangs and drugs, and calling for the deployment of the army without a coherent plan is just a populist way to deflect responsibility for resolving the crisis,” he said.

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