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Where are the soldiers to assist police going to come from?

Police Minister wants Army to help combat crimePolice Minister Fikile Mbalula has “appealed” for SA National Defence Force (SANDF) assistance to fight crime in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

His call comes on the heels of a similar statement by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. At the weekend she reportedly called for a review of SANDF policies to ensure soldiers assist police in dealing with crime.

Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman points out the SANDF has, since its establishment, had a mandate to deploy in support of the SA Police Service to protect lives and property.

The elephant in the room, he maintains, is where these soldiers are going to come from.

“Where exactly is the SANDF supposed to find the troops to do what the police can’t?

“Most of the personnel in the SA Air Force (SAAF) and SA Navy (SAN) are not at all trained for that type of work and are specialists. Deploying them for such tasks would place them and the public at risk unless military personnel were first taken through a refresher of initial military training and trained in police support operations. The SA Army is different in that most of its members have some level of relevant training, but more for internal security and perhaps riot control, not routine policing, so refresher training would be needed,” he said.

This leaves what Heitman terms the 37 000 or so people in Army uniform “not all of who are actually in the Army and many who are also specialists”.

Breaking this down further he points out the landward force has four of its 13 infantry battalions permanently tied up to some extent in the Democratic Republic of Congo deployment cycle, other troops are involved in border work and in training.

“By contrast the SA Police Service has 150 000 plus uniformed members and about three times the budget of the entire SANDF, which must also maintain and operate expensive aircraft and ships. The SAPS should not have to rely on the Army.”

Heitman has no problem with the military, particularly soldiers, deployed to support police.

“This is the case with most countries, with one difference from some in that the SANDF insists on retaining command of deployed personnel rather than placing them under police command. In the majority of instances this makes no difference as long as everyone is clear the police are in charge and any troops there are to assist and support them.

“The use of troops to provide cordons for cordon and search operations; to protect police conducting searches or raids or to protect police at roadblocks allowing one or two police officials to handle the road block as such, with troops to protect them and free up more police officers for more roadblocks or other tasks should not be problematic. Similarly, the SAAF can provide helicopters or transport aircraft or, when they still had them, spotter aircraft or UAVs in support of police operations, and the Navy can support the SAPS Water Wing.

“As long as these parameters are maintained no change of the Constitution or legislation is required. If government wants to deploy troops on their own for law enforcement operations a state of emergency would probably have to be declared,” Heitman said.

SAnews reports: "Mbalula on October 10 lamented the extremely violent crime that has made communities unsafe in Gauteng and the Western Cape. The violence in recent months, the Minister said, involves the use of weapons of war in serious crimes, where even innocent by-standers and children have fallen victim to gang-related activities.

“When I visited the community of Elsies River, one community leader referred to the terror caused by gangs as an act of terrorism. I want to tell the people of Elsies River I have heard them and I am acting,” Mbalula said.

“The most recent incidents of increased violence and shooting incidents and the increase in gangster activities in the Western Cape and Gauteng are becoming a matter of huge concern,” the Minister said.

"Crime fighting operations will focus on serious crimes including murder and attempted murder, robbery, assault, truck, car theft and high-jacking, rape, child abuse and neglect, abuse of controlled chemicals and drug-related crimes.

"Mbalula said while combating these crimes is within the mandate of the South African Police Service, he has requested the SANDF to help due to 'military training of some of the perpetrators'.

“We will never fail our people. We will squeeze the space for criminals, and we will liberate our people from prisons of fear,” the Minister said. This request still needs President Jacob Zuma’s approval."

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