The first weekend following the deployment was the only one whereby a marked decrease of murders (the most commonly-used measure of for the success of efforts to counteract violence) was recorded. 25 people died. Thereafter, the numbers quickly returned to the range in which they had been prior to deployment with 46, 41, 47 and 34 deaths having been recorded over the weekends that have followed. Again, this is only an indication of the number of murders. For a clearer picture of the state of the affected areas, a more holistic evaluation of criminal activity is required. The reality of the matter is that despite the presence of the soldiers, life in the Cape Flats has remained relatively unchanged, understandably casting doubt regarding the wisdom of deployment. Reports of only 300 troops having deployed versus the 1 320 that were promised, together with limited patrolling hours and absence during the hours when violence is most likely to occur, have contributed to the public’s scepticism. 

On the one hand, the Minister of Police announced that upward of 1000 arrests of criminals have been made since the deployment. It is telling that in the same statement, the Minister alluded to the possibility of an extension of the deployment once the initial period comes to an end. On the other hand, Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde, has indicated frustration at the lack of information regarding the effectiveness of the deployment from SAPS.

Among the many questions that arise from the above is why the murder rate has continued to spike when there are so many arrests. Another question is why, if the deployment of the SANDF was well-advised and temporary in nature, there should be an extension thereof. Finally, why has no information been made public as to the effectiveness of the SANDF, as well as what the SAPS’s security plan is once the army withdraws. 

To fully answer these questions, one must understand the relationship between the SANDF and the South African Police Service (SAPS). According to section 19 of the Defence Act, read with section 201(2)(a) of the Constitution, the army may be deployed into civilian areas in co-operation with SAPS, upon authorisation by the President. The troops that are deployed – in this case 1 320 strong – acquire the same authority as SAPS officers per section 13 the South African Police Service Act (and other legislation) for the duration of their deployment. This includes search and seizure, as well as arrest and detention of civilians, bearing in mind that soldiers are trained for warfare and the use of extreme force, not for community policing, where the standard is a minimum use of force. In addition, the human rights instruments governing war and domestic policing are vastly different. 

It is also worth noting that neither piece of legislation speaks to what is happening behind the scenes to address the scourge that is gangsterism and the related violence while the army patrols. Calls by the Premier and others have been made for the Police to report back and make public the effectiveness of the deployment, to allow an evaluation of the same. The alarming lack of information concerning the actual aim of the deployment, particularly once the army withdraws, suggests a kneejerk reaction – to fight violence with violence or a display of force. 

The reason the SANDF was deployed is the established under-capacity of SAPS, particularly in the Western Cape where criminal elements outnumber police officials. This is in conjunction with the poor and unequal allocation of police resources, as was determined in the 2018 ruling in Social Justice Coalition and Others v Minister of Police and Others.  The Equality Court found that there was a stark under-allocation of resources in the poorer areas (where gang violence is pervasive) of the Western Cape, when compared to more affluent areas. Further, the Court found that the intersectionality of the discrimination included race and social origin, largely due to the remnants of apartheid spatial planning, which resulted in the concentration of black and coloured people in these poor areas. Obviously, simply deploying more police resources into the affected areas will not serve as a panacea for the issue, but neither will the deployment of the SANDF. In spite of this ruling, there has been no progress in terms of the reallocation of police resources.

“Operation Prosper”, as this deployment is called, is not the first time the army has been deployed into civilian areas to assist police. In January 2012,the army was deployed in the Cape Flats to address gang-related violence.It was deployed again in the Cape Flats on 30 June 2015, as part of an ongoing collaboration to fight organised crime. The deployment – known as “Operation Fiela” –   was extended into 2016 following the expiration of the original deployment date.The Army was also deployed in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in 2015 following xenophobic violence. In some of these instances, where there were clearer objectives, the troop deployments achieved their goals.  However, in the Western Cape, gang-related violence is a symptom, and not the main cause, of violence. Once the army leaves, the situation quickly reverts to what it was prior to deployment.

Continuous engagement with the communities into which the army has been deployed paints an interesting picture – one that differs somewhat from praise for the success of the deployment. The Community Policing Forums (CPFs) have indicated that while they welcomed the deployment, they have not seen the impact they hoped they would. They army has been, according to the CPFs, addressing soft targets like shebeens when the residents would rather they focus on guns and drugs. The communities know who the criminal elements are, and it is disconcerting to note that few of these individuals have been arrested. Further, they too have raised questions about what happens after the army leaves the violent neighbourhoods. This week, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula acknowledged the main issue with the deployment by stating that the SANDF was never designed or intended to be utilised internally.

The bottom line is that the deployment has been carried out in a non-transparent matter, with few indicators made available in terms of evaluation and monitoring. According to the Institute of Security Studies, it is important to use factors other than the number of murders per week to evaluate the impact of the deployment, as more than murder takes place in these areas. Without these, it becomes difficult to validate the deployment, particularly where a plethora of evidence exists globally, that militarised policing is never a long-term solution for violent areas. Therefore, it is important that for the duration of the deployment, there is more transparency on the part of the Police regarding the impact of the army, as well as what the end game for the deployment is. 

By Ms Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Officer, Centre for Constitutional Rights
30 August 2019