Police Minister Fikile Mbalula’s admission he is thinking of approaching the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) for support is “as good as an admission that crime is out of control” according to opposition Freedom Front Plus (FF+) party leader Dr Pieter Groenewald.
The veteran MP and former Commando member also said although it was not unheard of for soldiers to assist the police in the execution of their duties, it was “not ideal”.
“South Africa seems to have regressed to the eighties when soldiers and armoured vehicles patrolled townships to combat crime.”
He said government was to blame for the situation where the Police Minister had to appeal for soldiers to assist in fighting crime in particularly the Western Cape and Gauteng.
“The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of government, specifically the administrations of presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. They were and are responsible for appointing national police commissioners and all appointments since Jackie Selebi in 1999 have been failures.
“We are now reaping the bitter fruits of the political capture of intelligence institutions. They are being used for political purposes and not fighting crime and this has seen crime become rampant with some civilians paying the ultimate price,” he said.
Mbalula’s appeal comes in the same week Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told a Cape Town funeral for the former Inspector General of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) that it was time for a review of SANDF policies to ensure soldiers assisted police in dealing with crime.
Following these statements by Cabinet Ministers it has been pointed out by defence analysts and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) that the military can – and does –support the police when authorised to do so by the Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma.
The most recent example was this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) when soldiers were deployed around Parliament in support of police. A Presidency statement at the time said the SANDF “employment is for service in co-operation with the SA Police Service (SAPS) to maintain law and order for the opening of Parliament where the President will deliver the SONA”.
Prior to that in 2015 soldiers were deployed to support police during the 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.
Military analyst Helmoed Heitman said: “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.”
Another area of concern to the FF+ leader is that of farm attacks and murders with yet another murder committed earlier this week on a Northern Cape farm.
He is of the opinion the supposed priority rating given to farm attacks and murders by the SA Police Service is “nothing but lip service”.
He was commenting on the reply to a Parliamentary question given by Mbalula. The Minister indicated what police were doing to protect agricultural and rural communities was “adequate”. Groenewald said this was “disappointing” and “a step in the wrong direction for rural safety”.
“The Minister will not consider specialised units for rural protection and simply builds on the existing Rural Safety Strategy, which has shortcomings, especially as regards practical application. There are currently about 20 police stations in rural areas that do not meet minimum requirements for sector policing,” Groenewald said.
In August, 23 attacks on farms were reported with six deaths. Last year 55 people were killed in 277 farm attacks.