South Africa sending in the army to Cape Town
July 13 2019 01:27 AM
Khayelitsha township.
This file picture shows Cape Town’s crime-ridden Khayelitsha township.

AFP/Reuters/Cape Town

South African soldiers will deploy in Cape Town’s crime-ridden townships after a surge of shootings, gang violence and murders in one of the country’s top tourist destinations, the head of the defence forces said yesterday.
“The South African National Defence Force will deploy a battalion with support elements during Operation PROSPER,” the defence ministry said in a statement yesterday.
They will bolster the city’s struggling police force for three months, patrolling on foot and in vehicles through districts that have been identified as criminal hotspots.
Soldiers have been used in similar missions in Cape Town before, but violence has peaked in recent months in the sprawling townships of the Cape Flats area, one of the most violent places in South Africa.
Neighbourhoods including Bonteheuwel, Delft, Hanover Park and Philippi East have been plagued by gang-related violence, with the much-criticised police force unable to impose order.
The latest deployment follows a visit by Police Minister Bheki Cele to the Philippi shanty town on the Cape Flats after several murders last week.
In a crime last Friday which made national headlines, six women between the ages of 18 and 26 were murdered when unknown gunmen entered a home and opened fire.
The next day another five men, aged 18 to 39, were shot dead and one was injured in two separate shooting incidents in Philippi, said Albert Fritz, a Western Cape provincial official tasked with ensuring community safety.
“In the Western Cape, 1,875 people were murdered in the past six months alone. This means that many of our most vulnerable residents in the province are living in a war zone,” Fritz said after more than a dozen murders over one weekend last month.
Cele said the “intense deployment” of the military would last three months.
“We believe that by the time that time comes, we would have normalised the situation and we’ll sustain that through normal policing,” he said.
According to Cele, murders in the Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town, increased by 6.3% from 3,729 to 3,963 during the year to April 2019.
“We’ll go door to door, we’ll collect every illegal firearm, we’ll collect all criminals that we want, we’ll collect all outstanding criminals that have been on bail and that is happening from two o’clock this (Friday) morning,” Cele told reporters.
Cape Town, an international tourist destination with stunning coastal and mountain scenery, has the highest murder rate in the country, according to the latest official crime figures.
Last year, over 20,000 people were murdered in South Africa – 57% per day – and Cele has described the country as “close to the war zone”.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, which has governed the Western Cape since 2011, has welcomed the temporary military intervention, saying that it was long overdue.
“Countless mothers have buried their innocent children and life in these communities has been a never-ending nightmare,” the party said in a statement. “The DA trusts that the deployment of the SANDF to various communities in the Western Cape will bring much-needed stability in the Western Cape.”
Youth unemployment is over 50% in many poorer parts of South Africa, which is the most unequal country in the world according to World Bank measurements.
Many wealthy people live in fortified homes with high walls topped with electrical wires, CCTV monitoring and armed guards.
Known mainly for its stunning tourist attractions, including Robben Island and Table Mountain, Cape Town also has some of the country’s highest murder rates.
Similar to Los Angeles, there is an entrenched gang culture with thousands of young men belonging to street gangs with names like “Hard Living” and “Young Americans”.
In places like Philippi or Khayelitsha, the largest black shantytown about 30km (18 miles) from the city centre, tens of thousands of people live cheek by jowl in a squalid sea of shacks – unnumbered homes on nameless streets that are perfect for criminals and a nightmare for police.
But, deploying the army, which occurs regularly over the festive season when crime spikes and soldiers back up normal policing activities, is not a lasting solution, analysts said.
Gareth Newham at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said: “It is a short-term, unsustainable response to a crisis.”

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