Using military to fight crime in communities not ideal

Soldiers supporting the police in Lavender Hill on the Cape Flats in August 2011. Now soldiers with peacekeeping experience in the Sudan and DRC have been deployed. File photo.
Soldiers supporting the police in Lavender Hill on the Cape Flats in August 2011. Now soldiers with peacekeeping experience in the Sudan and DRC have been deployed. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander

What does it mean when a country resorts to military intervention in an attempt to address violence and criminal activity within its domestic sphere? Is this an admission of failure by the police to police?

Or a failure of the capacity of the judicial system to investigate, prosecute and convict where necessary?

What exactly is SA ineptly admitting to, here? These are the questions that come to mind when thinking about the deployment of over 1,000 soldiers to help quell gang violence and crime in the impoverished parts of Cape Town since last week.

Is there an expectation to ultimately end gang violence in the Cape Flats? Or is it a deliberate mechanism to silence residents into fear? What will happen after the army is pulled out of that community?

Is there an expectation of peace? Who will craft and design that peace? In a military intervention, there are always winners and losers. Who then will emerge as a winner? Who will lose? In my view, it is an uncalculated gamble. A zero sum game.

In essence, this militarisation fails to take into consideration the country's historical context and realities. SA comes from a painful history of military presence in townships, especially during the 1960s-1970s, and the state of emergency in the 1980s.

Many still recall the trauma and violent nature of community life during apartheid, where the regime relied on the armed forces to maintain its control and squash any resistance.

It's therefore seems less than prudent for the state, in 2019, to still consider military intervention as a plausible solution to quell the gang-related violence in the Cape Flats.

The resort to instilling fear instead of finding solutions to address pervasive societal ills, mainly caused by systematic inequalities, poverty and unemployment is of much concern.

In a country where violence has already been entrenched, such an intervention poses myriad challenges and risks. The military may actually sow more seeds of resentment, hatred, anger and violence in the same communities it is meant to serve.

When violence manifests, it does not only do so through the exchange of gunfire, but in other forms. These include rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence and murder.

Is SA ready to take itself to such a violent place again? The message here is that, like in the past, we will also use violence to deal with your violence and criminal activities. SA does not need this.

What the state is trying to achieve is a negative form of peace. According to Johan Galtung, the father of peace studies, negative peace refers to the absence of violence, while positive peace is about the presence of harmony that meets the different understanding and needs of a society.

What is needed as a long-term solution in the Cape Flats is not a negative state of peace, but positive peace. It is through engagement that solutions will be found with a committed state, looking for long-term lasting solutions.

Finally, as SA is in the process of finalising an implementation framework on UN Resolution 1325, which specifically calls for gendered responses to peace and security, the country cannot surely afford to lose the ball at this point.

Again, SA has officially assumed its seat as a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council for 2019/20. This comes with a lot of responsibilities and expectations. Africa and the world are looking for sustainable solutions to violence.

Nonhlanhla is a gender specialist at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). Follow her on Twitter: @Nonhlanhla17

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