Wednesday, September 26, 2018
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Using the SANDF to fight crime is a bad idea

Bad idea to use soldiers for fighting crimeAnother voice has been added to those saying it’s not a good move to deploy soldiers to fight crime alongside the police.

Professor Theo Neethling, Head of Political Studies and Governance at the University of Free State’s Humanities Faculty, said Police Minister Fikile Mbalula stirred controversy when he called for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to be part of the national crime fighting effort.

“There might be short term gains from deploying soldiers in crime-ridden areas of South Africa, but there are several reasons it should be discouraged.

“An obvious reason is that, tactically, militaries are not trained to do community protection and fighting crime in urban communities. They aren’t taught and trained how to apply police and law enforcement rules when it comes to the use of minimum force, or how to follow proper procedures during an arrest.

“Moreover, soldiers are generically trained to use machine guns, not pistols. Also, military doctrine and command structures are not suited to deployments in urban areas and especially to fight gangsterism. In short, armies are basically geared to fight external enemies.

“Mexico is a case in point from a South African perspective. A decade ago the country’s military was brought in to fight drug cartels - a role its leadership is now questioning. The Mexican Defence Minister Salvador Cienfuegos recently pointed out their responsibilities in fighting crime don’t correspond with their training,” he wrote in The Conversation, adding South Africa can learn from the Mexican experience.

“There are no short cuts to fighting crime and instead of looking to the SANDF for quick fixes, the South African government should be focused on building a more effective and functional police and crime intelligence service. In simplified terms: the South African Police Service (SAPS) and related law enforcement agencies should improve their institutional capabilities and get the job of crime prevention and fighting done more efficiently. Beyond the fact that it wouldn’t be desirable to use the military in anti-crime efforts in Cape Town and Gauteng, there is also the hard reality that South Africa’s defence force is in a weakened and parlous state in several respects.”

He gives three major reasons why soldiers should not be deployed to assist police in fighting crime.

“The first,” according to Neethling, “is that the defence force is in an increasingly critical state of degeneration”.

“There has been a continuous decline in military spending over the past few decades. In real terms the defence budget was cut by half between 1989 and 1997. Until 2010 expenditure was pinned at about 1.6% of GDP(Gross Domestic Product) - between 6% and 7% of total government expenditure. Over the past seven years it has levelled out at 1.2% to 1.1% of GDP.”

He also points out the military is “ill-equipped” to fight crime because, among others, it has been criticised for being unable to meet its current responsibilities. This includes not being able to fulfil its responsibilities as a peacekeeping force on the continent.

“South Africa’s participation in continental peacekeeping operations of both the United Nations and the African Union has decreased notably. Its participation has reached the lowest level since the early 2000s following the withdrawal of its soldiers from Darfur, Sudan.

“The third reason is, despite insufficient funding, the SANDF has had to take on extra responsibilities over the last seven years.

“Since 2010 it has taken back the border protection function and related crime fighting along the borders from police and begun patrolling the country’s borders. It is now deployed along the seven provinces that have landward borders with surrounding countries. Tasks range from stopping people attempting to enter South Africa illegally to confiscating contraband, mainly cigarettes and liquor and dagga. Since 2011 the SANDF also had to take up the task of assisting Kruger National Park rangers in preventing rhino poaching.”

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