Concerns about civilians' safety ahead of army deployment in Cape Town - reports

Law enforcement officers deployed to Philippi. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)
Law enforcement officers deployed to Philippi. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

Several organisations have raised concerns about the safety of citizens as the police's Operation Lockdown gets under way in Cape Town's crime-ridden suburbs.

The operation will receive support from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). SANDF troops arrived in Cape Town on Friday.

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier-General Mafi Mgobozi confirmed to News24 on Saturday that the troops are receiving orientation training to ensure they are prepared before they are deployed.

He did not give any further information on the expected date of deployment, or how many troops are being deployed, citing the safety of SANDF members as the reason.

The SANDF is still waiting for legal documentation, or their deployment papers, to be signed off. Mgobozi declined to comment on when the SANDF expected to receive these documents.

"The army's mandate is not necessarily community safety, fighting crime and organised crime intelligence," Bonteheuwel community activist Henriette Abrahams told Netwerk24.

Abrahams, who is also one of the organisers of Total Shutdown, said she hoped the army plays a supporting role to the police and that everyone wants to protect human rights. She also hoped that people's dignity and respect would be upheld.

This was similar to the view of defence analyst John Stupart, who wrote for the African Defence Review that in a policing scenario, the defence force is being used in a way where they will be facing communities and individuals whose "enemy" elements are indistinguishable from ordinary civilians, according to The Citizen.

'Default response to shoot first'

"Without powers of arrest or investigation, and without the training in community policing that even the SAPS struggle with, the SANDF's default response to violence will be to shoot first and ask questions later," Stupart said.

Dalli Weyers from Social Justice Coalition told Netwerk24 the fact that the army needs to be brought into certain areas shows that the police have failed in their mandates in that environment.

Police Minister Bheki Cele's spokesperson Reneilwe Serero however told the SABC that the deployment of the army to the Cape Flats is by no means an admission that the police have failed to do their job.

"There is already a large contingency of police that have already been deployed. They started walking the streets, doing searches, making arrests as well. So, they are here to make sure we maintain law and order in this part of the Western Cape and in any other volatile areas.

"Not only will they be focusing on Philippi East, but they're focusing on a broader Western Cape where we have noticed a high rate of crime and murders," she said.

Cele announced on Thursday in his budget speech that President Cyril Ramaphosa had given the go-ahead for soldiers to enter crime-ridden areas on the Cape Flats.

Western Cape Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz welcomed the announcement.

"The deployment of the SANDF is a massive relief for the people of our province who can now look forward to being safe in their own communities and homes," he said in a statement on Friday.

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