Cape Town - After desperate calls for military intervention in the Cape Flats, soldiers were deployed in Manenberg early on Thursday morning to crack down on rampant gang violence in the area.
In the past month, at least 10 people have been killed in the neighbourhood as tensions between rival gangs escalated.
The crackdown on gangs, which is part of Operation Fiela by the police, is set to target 10 square kilometres of known gang turf in Manenberg in a bid to curb the violence which has plagued the neighbourhood for decades.
Most residents, who told the Cape Argus they feel like they are living in a “war zone”, celebrated when they saw soldiers swarm into the neighbourhood. They explained how for the past week they had been disturbed by the rattle of gunfire almost every night and were scared to go outside in case they were struck by a stray bullet or mugged by young gang members.
The army was brought in to help police officers as they searched homes for illegal weapons and drugs, said Western Cape head of detectives Major-General Jeremy Vearey.
He said three firearms had been confiscated and four people arrested by 9am, explaining that this was just the beginning, with further operations planned against gangsters in the area.
This was the first time that soldiers had entered the area to control crime this year. Last year they were also brought in.
A team of about 350 police officers and soldiers descended on Manenberg at 3.30am, waking residents with sharp knocks on their doors. The R4 rifles carried by the military glinted under the yellow bulbs that light the cracked concrete streets separating Manenberg’s blocks.
“When are you going to stop all this noise?”asked a woman watching from a stairwell, laughing. “I need my beauty sleep.”
Police officers stormed into homes where they found sleepy residents in their pyjamas, rubbing their eyes and asking questions.
Shouted orders echoed across the quads that divide up Manenberg’s “courts” as tenants tried to leave their homes.
“Stay there! No, I said stay. Go back inside!” yelled one police officer.
In the yard behind one resident’s home, two young men lay on the ground with their faces pressed against the earth. Police had found a stash of illegal firearms.
A frightened dog sat panting inside a kennel watching as police officers combed through a wooden shack in the yard.
“They have ingenious ways of hiding these guns,” said Vearey. One firearm was found stashed inside an old stereo.
As police moved through the apartments, hundreds of heads poked out from second-storey windows to try and catch of a glimpse of what was happening below.
The raid trapped law-abiding residents making it impossible for them to go to work.
“Now I’m going to be late, and you think my boss will understand? Not at all,” said Mariam Jones as she huddled together with other residents waiting for police to allow them to leave.
However, Jones was not against the raid. She said a military presence was needed to try and curb gang violence.
Another resident, Elroy Jacobs, was searched as he left his home. His pockets were emptied, his wallet turned inside out. But he smiled when asked about the raid.
“I am so happy they are finally doing something. I have four daughters and I do not feel safe here,” he said.
Earlier this week, Cape Flats residents handed a petition to Parliament demanding a crackdown on gang violence in the area.
But as one resident said: “Soldiers need to be (in Manenberg) all the time.”