There are ways to control crime on the Cape Flats and none of them are easy, says the writer. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

It has been more than a week since the announcement that troops were to be deployed into the Cape Flats’ crime-ravaged townships (at the time of writing it appears not to have happened yet, at least not in a big way) and, while the deployment might initially calm the situation, peace in gang-infested townships is perilously unstable. It will not be long before the situation implodes and things could potentially be worse than ever.

Gangsters might initially lie low while they check out the situation. Most of them are not stupid and have superb survival skills. They will wait for the opportunity to revive their campaigns of terror on innocent residents, campaigns they might suspend in the face of the army deployment.

But they know, as everyone else does, that troops cannot remain on the Cape Flats forever.

The last time we had troops in the townships was in the 1980s, at the height of apartheid. At the time there were vigorous campaigns, supported by most progressive and liberal organisations, to have the troops removed.

This time, the opinion appears to be divided. There are those who are pulling out their hair, thinking of ways in which to address the rampant gang violence in Western Cape townships, which saw 43 people killed last weekend alone.

This has been a consistent feature, over many years, in these dormitory townships. We all know that people will be killed, especially over weekends; it is just a case of whether the number is going up or down. Those who feel that the troops should not be deployed into such a volatile situation - and I am one of them - argue that crime in South Africa can never be seen in isolation. Crime is a manifestation of communities who feel voiceless and helpless, and where the value of life has become almost meaningless.

The troops might be a temporary solution - a band-aid, of sorts, on a festering wound - but you need more than band-aids in the mainly poor townships on the Cape Flats.

Unemployment on the Cape Flats, for instance, is much higher than the official national average of 27.6%. Many people earn much less than what is considered a living wage. Many households earn nothing at all. Housing is inadequate and that is an understatement.

In an environment of extreme poverty, crime and criminals thrive. Gangsters are known to operate like social welfare agencies in some areas, offering help with rent payments and legal support when youngsters land in trouble.

I grew up in some of these townships many years ago, including Hanover Park, where young people, often innocent, are still killed on a regular basis in the crossfire of gang warfare.

Some of my friends managed to escape the poverty which surrounded us, but we are the minority. Most young people are condemned to lives of misery in these townships.

There are ways to control crime on the Cape Flats and none of them are easy. It will involve listening to the affected communities and working with them. It will involve trying to change the economic conditions of the majority of people living there. It will involve creating jobs and giving hope to young people that their lives matter. It will involve the government - and not only the police - winning the trust of people who have no reason to trust the government or the police.

We have unleashed a monster with the deployment of the army in our townships. They only know how to use force and hope it will result in peace. But you need more than force and fear on the Cape Flats. The police need to work with communities, not only with community organisations or gatekeepers, but with people who truly know what is happening on the ground.

* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media.

** Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

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

Weekend Argus