Guest Column

Deploy the soldiers where they're really needed

2017-02-08 14:37
(Nickolaus Bauer, via Twitter)

(Nickolaus Bauer, via Twitter)

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Tammy Petersen

The SANDF is indeed needed for a war that has been raging in Cape Town for decades – but the bloody battle is not happening on the doorsteps of Parliament.

It’s happening on the outskirts of the city, in the shacklands and low-income communities of the Cape Flats. This is where one of the longest running, bloodiest wars have been playing out for years without urgent and desperately needed military intervention.

The Presidency's announcement on Tuesday made it clear that the deployed defence force members were not there for the usual displays and street marches.

The highly trained officials would help SAPS “maintain law and order” during Thursday's State of the Nation Address.

Where is the maintenance of law and order when innocents are gunned down by bullets that pierce the windows of their homes, where children can't go to school because gangsters armed to the teeth are walking the streets, opening fire when and where they see fit?

I have walked the streets of the Cape Flats for years – cried with the mother sitting on the pavement next to her dead child's body, and listened to distraught fathers whose loved ones will never walk again.

For decades, people from Manenberg to Mitchells Plain have been calling for military intervention as people are shot and maimed in never ending gang wars – yes, actual war – which in my mind would justify the army being called in.

This has happened on occasion. But not often enough.

This request has been turned down many times out of fear of creating the impression of a "military state". Appearances seem to be more important than the right to life.

Maintaining law and order is the job of the police, with the assistance of the defence force in exceptional circumstances. The army is on call for war, but decision makers have for aeons been ignoring the armed battle taking place in the poverty plagued streets of apartheid's dumping grounds.

War is when roads are filled with bullets and bloodshed; when children like Ashline Telmarks, 5, is shot in the back while playing in a Cape Flats park and babies like 5-month-old Zahnia Woodward is shot while sitting on her father's lap in Ocean View.

It's when 1542 people are killed in one year across 10 of the most gang and crime ravaged police precincts in the Western Cape.

We should have armoured vehicles on the streets where foot soldiers are out in their numbers for some desperately needed law and order.

Instead, we have fed-up volunteers, grandmothers and employed fathers who still have to work after a night on patrol, walking the streets in bibs, brandishing torches and armed with blind faith trying to keep some semblance of order on their own communities.

Our defence force has the equipment and manpower to reduce the number of casualties wiping out people both innocent and with blood on their hands – it's time to bite the bullet.

Some may argue that the deployment of the defence force in these areas will lead to criminalising communities as they aren't trained to work in this type of situation, or that it will take the country back to the apartheid era armed patrols where the sight of an infamous Casspir resulted in fear instead of a feeling of safety.  

But what is more important: extra support for a struggling police force or standing by while another mother has to bury her child?

Training these forces to work with neighbourhoods made up of victims of circumstance and killers chasing after drug territory will be essential – most of the people who live in these communities are not the enemy.

But it is possible that our army, with guidance, can supplement the human resources that are largely failing to safeguard the innocents.

Yes, there are deep rooted issues that need to be dealt with to fight the scourge of gangsterism, but the most urgent is to save the unarmed that are stuck in their surroundings. 

Our defence force should not be used to intimidate the protesting public or vocal politicians into compliance for the sake of keeping up appearances. It should be a force aimed at defending the people.

Think what you like of Number One.

But the fact that 441 soldiers will maintain "law and order" while Jacob Zuma delivers his speech, backed by a reported 6000 police officers, speaks volumes of an invisible war in which essential services are being used for the wrong reasons.

The war zones you are looking for dozens of kilometres away.

Please, Mr President, do come and experience the State of the Cape Flats, without the army who will be watching our ostensible "People's Parliament" on Thursday night. 

- Tammy Petersen is a journalist at News24. Follow her on Twitter

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    zuma  |  jacob  |  gangs  |  sona 2017  |  gang violence
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