Authorities in South Africa will deploy the army to parts of the Western Cape province, including the port city of Cape Town, to help police battle a surge of gang-related violence in its poorer neighbourhoods.
The defence ministry announced in a statement on Friday that troops would be sent to the “worst-affected crime areas” for at least three months from July.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said the deployment will take place at a later date and not on Friday as the ministry had announced.
“It will go ahead as soon as we have all the necessary paperwork in order,” SANDF head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini told the News24 channel on Friday.
The ministry’s move came after recent bloodshed in mainly poor majority-black and mixed-race areas prompted a provincial official to liken the situation in parts of the province to a “war zone”, with some 2,000 people killed since January.
Communities in those districts often bear the brunt of violence spread over a vast area called the Cape Flats, where high rates of unemployment and drug abuse have fuelled gang activity.
In a crime last Friday, which made national headlines, six women aged 18 to 26 were murdered when unknown gunmen entered a home and opened fire.
The next day, five men, aged 18 to 39, were shot dead and one was injured in two separate shooting incidents, 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.
‘We’ll go door to door’
Police Minister Bheki Cele said the army’s deployment – backed by President Cyril Ramaphosa – was part of “extraordinary” measures that needed to be taken to ensure public safety.
“We’ll go door to door, we’ll collect every illegal firearm, we’ll collect all criminals that we want,” Cele told local media on Thursday.
“If you keep the illegal firearms and you think you will sleep peaceful, it can’t happen. We’ll knock at your door. If you refuse to open, we’ll open the door. We’ll ask to pull up your mattress. If you refuse, we’ll pull it up with you,” he added. “We vouch that the Western Cape will never be [the] same.”
Murders in the Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town, increased by 6.3 percent from 3,729 to 3,963 during the year to April 2019, according to Cele.
Cape Town, an international tourist destination with stunning coastal and mountain scenery, has the highest murder rate in South Africa, according to the latest official crime figures.
The city has an entrenched gang culture, with thousands of young men belonging to street gangs with names like “Hard Living” and “Young Americans”.
But analysts warned the move to send in troops in a bid to address the violence was not a lasting solution.
“Deploying the army is a short-term, unsustainable response to a crises,” said Gareth Newham, head of justice and violence prevention at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.
“When will we see clear plans to professionalise the police and prevent murder so there’s no need for the army?,” he questioned in a Twitter post.