Fears for rural safety as old system winds up

2008-02-01 00:00

As the country enters the last phase of the disbandment of the commando system, some security analysts and farmers are adamant that the move has created a security void in rural areas.

Koos Marais, the head of KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) security desk, said he believes the commandos were a “vital wheel” in the prevention of farm attacks and other forms of rural crime.

“The commandos could be mobilised very quickly and they also helped in times of emergencies and natural disasters,” he told The Witness.

The announcement that the commandos were to be disbanded was first made by President Thabo Mbeki during his 2003 state of the nation address. He said they would be replaced by sector policing units in what was known as the SANDF exit and SAPS entry strategy.

According to Marais, the sector policing units “seem not to be getting off the ground in some rural areas”.

Henri Boshoff of the Institute for Security Studies says the sector policing system “cannot in itself be considered a complete replacement” for the commando system.

“The SAPS is already struggling to fulfil its obligation to fight crime in the country. The SAPS does not at present have the capacity to take on more tasks as it is already stretched to the limit. The promise of the previous minister of Safety and Security to recruit thousands of reservists resulted in nothing,” Boshoff said.

Marais concurred with Boshoff, saying: “I am not sure that the SAPS has the capacity to do all these things [duties previously carried out by the commandos] and still keep up with their normal policing duties”.

The SA National Defence Force says that if all goes according to plan, all commando units will stop all operations by March 15.

Boshoff told The Witness that only nine commandos are still operational.

Before the phasing out process started, there were 183 commando units operational throughout the country.

According to Boshoff, most of the reasons given for this decision were related to the perceptions about the lack of transformation in the commandos and that they served white interests only.

Before the phasing out process started, there were 52 224 members serving in the commandos. Of these, 32 136 were white, 15 134 black, 4 626 coloured and 328 Indian.

Most of these members had to either demobilise or join the SAPS as reservists when the units were disbanded.

bmbanjwa@witness.co.za

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