Army troops entered the Cape Flats on Thursday, Mandela Day, a week after Minister of Police Bheki Cele announced that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would be deployed to quell escalating gang violence.
The army started their operation in Manenberg, the same suburb where Tasneem Simons (22) was murdered on Monday while taking down her washing. According to News24 43 people were killed in Cape Town this past Cape Town. Since November 2018, over 2,300 people have been murdered in the Western Cape.
When the troops arrived residents cheered. Residents came out of their homes to watch as police performed raids. SAPS officers searched vehicles while soldiers kept watch.
"The SANDF members will be deployed to support the police to restore law and maintain order in communities that are being terrorised by gangsterism," said President Cryil Ramaphosa during a response to the budget vote at Parliament on Thursday.
Police and the army then made their way to Hanover Park. Here they performed more raids. Residents said that there was shooting in the area a few hours before the troops arrived. Residents expressed support for the army being deployed onto the Cape Flats. People we spoke to, for example, said that the violence made them feel like they are being kept "hostage".
This man (who asked not to be named) was visiting his partner when their house was raided. He said that they agreed with the army being deployed to stop gang violence but he does not agree with them forcefully breaking into their home.
"Where do these guys get the guns from?" asked resident Julia Koen. Koen has been staying for 31 years in Hanover Park and says that she has seen many children die in the courtyard pictured above from gun shot wounds. Koen says that she's happy with the army deployment. "It's something we've been asking for a long time".
These were some of the weapons found during the raids.
Throughout the day, GroundUp saw one person being arrested.
Throughout Hanover Park many soldiers patrolled the streets and fields where the raids were taking place. It is unclear if the army will continue patrolling once the raids are complete.
As the raids continued, hundreds of children gathered to watch. Soldiers kept the streets closed off. When more troops and military vehicles arrived, children would cheer and clap.
GROUNDVIEW: Popular, maybe necessary, but deploying the army in townships resurrects terrible memories
By GroundUp Editors
The apartheid government used the army to crush resistance in townships in the 1980s. Together with the police they dished out arbitrary "justice" and committed numerous atrocities. South Africans are rightfully weary of the military being used for law enforcement.
But violence on the Cape Flats is extreme. In 2018 Cape Town had 2,868 homicides, an estimated murder rate of 66 per 100,000, apparently the 11th highest in the world of cities that record this kind of statistic. (Many more cities, such as those in a state of war or with poorly resourced statistical bureaus, are unable to record homicide statistics accurately, and some are more dangerous than Cape Town. But this is cold comfort, especially to the residents of Nyanga, Manenberg and Hanover Park.)
The police, severely under-resourced, appear almost powerless to stem gang-related murders. This is why Cape Flats residents, who describe themselves as hostages and who live in fear, welcomed the deployment of the SANDF on Thursday.
It's too easy to criticise the SANDF deployment if one lives in a safer suburb (although very few suburbs in Cape Town are safe compared to most of the world). We hope that it will be both a temporary and effective measure; the verdict is out.
The fact that it has come to this is a failure of our society. It's hard to articulate the causes of this failure. Why homicide rates are high here and low there, or go up and down, is a much studied but contested area of research.
Nevertheless, we suspect a combination of factors have created this situation: poor policing; absurdly slow court systems; prisons that turn people into worse criminals by the time they leave than when they came in; the breakdown of community and family life in part because of economic hardship, especially unemployment; a lack of extramural facilities for youths; the popularity of hard drugs among many young people trying to cope with their difficult circumstances; and numerous gangs that are able to sell drugs to buy illegal firearms, sometimes from corrupt police officers.
Unless these problems improve we may find that sending in the army becomes normal. It should never come to that.