'Better late than never' as army is ordered to join Cape Flats gang war

Soldiers assist the police in the gang-ridden Cape Flats suburb of Lavender Hill in August 2011. Now soldiers have been ordered back on to the streets.
Soldiers assist the police in the gang-ridden Cape Flats suburb of Lavender Hill in August 2011. Now soldiers have been ordered back on to the streets.
Image: Esa Alexander

Hundreds of people have died unnecessarily because of the delay in deploying troops to the Cape Flats, the City of Cape Town said on Friday.

The comment by JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, followed Thursday night’s announcement by police minister Bheki Cele that SANDF personnel would be sent to gang-ravaged communities to keep the peace.

During his budget vote speech in parliament, Cele said President Cyril Ramaphosa had agreed that the SANDF could support the police.

The announcement came less than two weeks since soaring murder statistics put Cape Town on course to become one the world’s most dangerous cities.

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.
City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.
Image: Esa Alexander

In a statement on Friday, Smith said crimes in the worst-affected communities “ have truly reached a state of emergency and threaten the stability and reputation of the city as a whole”.

Smith’s party, the DA, has been calling for the deployment of troops on the Cape Flats for more than a year, and last July Cele said it was out of the question.

“The people of the Western Cape don’t want the army‚ they want safety‚” he said. “If you give them visibility of the police and better safety‚ they will take that.”

Troop deployment could easily exacerbate violence and “create more hate between the government and the people”, Cele said at the time.

But on Thursday he said SANDF members would work with the police for at least three months for cordons, searches, observation, and foot and vehicle patrols. They would also provide air support.

Smith said on Friday: “Finally the national minister and state president have heard us and are deploying the military to stabilise the worst-affected communities, but it took threats of court action and community shutdowns to get them to respond.

Police minister Bheki Cele comforts the mother of Sgt Donovan Prins, who was gunned down in Lavender Hill, Cape Town, on June 24 2019.
Police minister Bheki Cele comforts the mother of Sgt Donovan Prins, who was gunned down in Lavender Hill, Cape Town, on June 24 2019.
Image: Dan Meyer

“It would have been better for them to do the right thing for the right reason when the crisis first started and not after hundreds and hundreds of unnecessary deaths before action is taken.”

Smith said violent communities needed to be stabilised before other interventions to restore normality.

“In other words, the bullets must stop flying before clinics and libraries can stay open, social housing can be improved and the important normal functioning of the community can resume and investment and jobs can be attracted.”

He said the dispute between the city council and the DA-led provincial government on one hand, and Cele on the other, would not be over until the Western Cape’s loss of 4,500 police officers over the past four years was fully reversed.

“Deployment of the military is at best a short-term stop gap to bring peace to these communities,” he said.

Serious problems in the police and low conviction rates for gang murders and other violent crime needed to be fixed for communities to “achieve normalisation and progress”.

X