The deployment of over a thousand soldiers to Cape Town to help quell gang violence and crime will cost R23.3 million over the next three months.
This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who gave the figures in a letter to Parliament’s Speaker Thandi Modise on Friday.
It was revealed that the government has sent 1 320 soldiers to Cape Town, who will be deployed between 18 July and 16 September in ten priority areas.
Speaking in Parliament, Ramaphosa defended the deployment of soldiers to parts of Cape Town hard hit by ongoing gang violence.
Responding to his budget vote, the President who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said the deployment to help with targeted police operations had yielded positive results.
“Soldiers will be deployed to support the police to restore law and order in communities that are being terrorised by gangsterism. We need to save lives,” he is reported by Johannesburg daily The Citizen as saying.
Responding to criticism that soldiers are trained to shoot to kill and had no place in policing operations he said any trepidation should be allayed by the fact that the defence force did not have the same mandate it had pre-democracy.
“Let us be clear the SANDF is not the defence force of old. It’s not an apartheid-type defence force.
“The defence of old was the defence force that went into our townships and used our young people as targets for shooting. This is the defence force of a democratic South Africa, a defence force that has been involved in peace-keeping operations in various parts of the continent and which has played a critical role in supporting the South African police in various crime fighting operations.”
Minister of Police Bheki Cele first announced the deployment of the soldiers during his budget vote speech nearly two weeks ago.
Residents gathered in Manenberg and Hanover Park on the Cape Flats to watch as soldiers assisted police on Thursday afternoon, welcoming the new deployment to an area that officials liken to a war zone.
Bloodshed over the past seven months in mainly poor black and mixed-race areas has killed more than 2 000 people, almost half gang-related, in a city of 4 million, Western Cape provincial officials have said.
Community activists say an increase in the availability of illegal firearms is a factor. Charges have been brought against some police officers accused of diverting weapons to criminal gangs.
Experts also point to a failure by authorities to address deep-seated poverty that persists in many black and mixed-race areas 25 years after white minority rule ended.
“In Cape Town alone there are around 350 000 kids on the streets who are not in school, not in jobs, and they are causing trouble,” said Don Pinnock, a criminologist at the University of Cape Town. “And then the syndicates come in and say we’ll pay you so much to distribute these things, to protect this area, take out those guys.”
In the Cape Flats, a patchwork of apartheid-era townships and working class suburbs, high unemployment and drug abuse fuel a violent gang culture.
“If you here, then it’s just about death and innocent people dying,” said Dawn Pieters, whose 17-year-old son Trevor was shot dead by unknown assailants in Manenberg on June 2. “I don’t know even how that gangster that shoots an innocent person feels … Do they even have hearts?”
Stray bullets frequently kill innocent bystanders, police and residents said. Others are shot as part of gang initiations.
In November, Ramaphosa launched a new specialised anti-gang unit in Cape Town in a bid to curb gangland killings, but there has been limited success.
“The army was really the last resort, and we didn’t call for it lightly,” said Albert Fritz, the provincial minister responsible for community safety. “But we’ve seen the escalation of people dying.”
The South African National Defence Force earlier this month announced it would deploy a battalion with support elements to communities in the Cape Flats, including the shantytown of Philippi, where almost a dozen people were killed earlier this month.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said troops had moved to Khayelitsha on Friday, the largest black shantytown in Cape Town.
In Khayelitsha, tens of thousands of people live cheek by jowl in a squalid sea of shacks – unnumbered homes on nameless streets, perfect conditions for criminals and a nightmare for police.
“Our troops are there to support the police,” Mgobozi said, adding that soldiers would help with checkpoints, controlled searches and patrols. “They determine where we go, and people must understand that.”