“There comes the army. There goes the army,” said Wilfred McKay, a self-proclaimed reformed gangster.
The Hanover Park resident was speaking about Tuesday night when the army patrolled the streets of the gang-ridden area after 19:00. But, as soon they left, the shooting started again, he told GroundUp.
In July 2019, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed to temporarily assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) in gang hotspots on the Cape Flats.
This came after a spate of violence left 73 people dead in one weekend, from 31 May to 2 June 2019. In response, the government sent a convoy of heavily armed troops and armoured vehicles to assist the police with raids, patrols, searches and roadblocks around these hotspots.
The army’s assistance is expected to be withdrawn at the end of this month.
“There was no change … They had no real purpose. The deployment was a waste of time,” said McKay.
He was once a member of the notorious Americans gang for about 20 years. He now volunteers and works with gangsters through upliftment programmes at the First Community Resource Centre (FCRC).
McKay said: “All the money spent on the army could have been used for programmes, particularly programmes that could keep kids busy and off the streets.”
The SANDF deployment was meant to end in September but President Cyril Ramaphosa extended it until March 2020. It cost the country just over R64 million.
The Western Cape has the highest rate of gang violence in South Africa.
According to the 2018/19 crime stats, 1 120 murders were linked to gang violence, of which 938 were attributed to the Western Cape. The province also has four of the top five precincts where the most murders were reported. These are Nyanga, Delft, Khayelitsha and Philippi East, which includes Hanover Park.
In November 2018, Ramaphosa launched the Anti-Gang Unit to much fanfare. In June 2019, one month before the army’s deployment, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the unit was “not enough”.
Nothing has changed
“Nothing has really changed,” said Henrietta Abrahams, a community activist from Bonteheuwel. Abrahams, who led the Bonteheuwel protests, said the government was ignoring the root cause of gang violence.
She said that a lack of jobs, substance abuse, school dropouts and large families living in cramped spaces were issues that needed to be addressed.
“Communities need more police resources and better trained police,” she said.
The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) has also been campaigning for better police resources in poorer communities for years. In June 2019, protesters camped outside the SAPS Western Cape Provincial Head Office demanding, among other things, that police resources be relocated.
Albert Fritz, Provincial Minister of Community Safety, said: “To ensure that a vacuum is not created when the SANDF withdraws its troops, the Western Cape government will continue to roll out its safety plan. This includes the deployment of additional law enforcement officers and the rollout of numerous violence prevention programmes in communities most affected by crime.”
Measuring the success of the army’s deployment is difficult, but the release of the 2019/20 crime stats could show an indication of its effectiveness.