The public discourse around soldiers assisting police in high crime areas, which according to the Police Minister include Gauteng and Western Cape, could see an escalation to the level of the Marikana massacre.
This is the view of opposition Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader, Pieter Groenewald.
Presenting a private member’s motion to Parliament this week, he pointed out that Minister Fikile Mbalula’s indication he is thinking of asking for military assistance to fight crime was an acknowledgement that crime is out of control.
“Having the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) assist the police is not uncommon, but it is certainly not ideal,” he said, adding the South African military was “not up to standard” to assist in fighting crime.
“Soldiers are not trained for police work. They will not know what to do and they are also not sufficiently disciplined,” the former Commando officer said.
“If the SANDF is deployed in certain areas, there will not only be one Marikana, but many,” he warned.
He was referring to the deaths of 34 miners in August 2012 during a strike at a Lonmin-owned platinum mine in North West. It is widely regarded as the single most lethal use of force by the SA Police Service (SAPS) since democracy in 1994.To date no-one has been charged in connection with the deaths.
“Police are there to protect the community. Soldiers are trained to shoot and kill. That is the big difference.”
Soldiers have previously been deployed in support of various police operations, including the 2015 national anti-xenophobia tasking, Operation Fiela. Soldiers provided a second line of defence enabling police to be in the vanguard of search and arrest operations following a number of xenophobic incidents and killing starting in KwaZulu-Natal and spreading to Gauteng.
This is borne out by defence analyst Helmoed Heitman who told defenceWeb: “The SANDF has always had a mandate to deploy in support of the police for the protection of lives and property”.
“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 so one or two police officials can handle the road block as such, with troops to protect them thereby freeing up more police officers for other blocks or other tasks, is not new.”