Members of the South African Defence Force (SANDF) attend a remembrance day at the Cenotaph to commemorate the lives lost during the the World Wars I and II, and the other wars, in central Johannesburg,

Will bringing in the SANDF really help stop Cape Town’s gangs?

Will the SANDF be able to crush gang violence in Cape Town? Local government has been begging for them but will soldiers bring real results?


Members of the South African Defence Force (SANDF) attend a remembrance day at the Cenotaph to commemorate the lives lost during the the World Wars I and II, and the other wars, in central Johannesburg,

By now, you’ve probably already heard that Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has requested the support of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Mbalula wants the army to help combat crime in both the Western Cape and Gauteng, particularly gang crime.

“Minister Mbalula notes that in recent past South Africa has been engulfed by an insurgence of extremely violent crime that has made communities feel and be unsafe‚” the ministry said.

The police minister has reacted specifically to the fact that many areas of Cape Town have been plagued by severe gang violence.

“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 that I heard you‚ and I am acting‚” Mbalula said.

The Democratic Alliance and their governing team in the Western Cape have been calling for the SANDF’S involvement for years. Now, finally, it seems the “new” man in the job has decided enough is enough.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has publically backed Mbalula’s calls for the SANDF to intervene. She also called for Mbalula to focus on bringing back the controversial gang units.

“We reiterate our calls for minister Mbalula to immediately reinstate the specialised gang units‚ which were disbanded several years ago with no explanation.

This would serve as a permanent force in gang-ridden areas. How much longer should communities wait for this given President [Jacob] Zuma’s promise in early 2016 to reinstate the units?”

Will soldiers really make a difference?

This question has two multifaceted answers, while many leaders and politicians have been desperately calling for the SANDF, they also realise that it is a temporary solution.

“The minister cannot simply absolve himself and the SAPS from their constitutional mandate. There remains the need for a permanent solution to deal with violent crime in the Western Cape.” Zille said

So, if we can’t have soldiers patrolling Lavender Hill and Elsie’s River forever, how do we find the balance between them helping short term while still planning a permanent fix?

Why troops vs gangs “won’t” work but are still a must

While the introduction of the SANDF will provide instant relief to affected communities initially, the move could also lead to more violence. If the gangs shift positions a little, it could become a constant game of cat and mouse. Leaving other nearby areas open to crime while the soldiers protect one area.

Another worry is SAPS’ plan to reduce the number of police officers in the province by 3 000. If this happens at the same time as the SANDF introduction, it will make gang areas even more vulnerable.

Community safety MEC Dan Plato explained that these residents deserve better from national police.

“Communities in the Western Cape will not be appeased by more empty promises. The national police leadership need to address the systemic problems in what is essentially their responsibility and mandate.”

To illustrate how serious the problems of gangs in Cape Town really is, just listen to Abie Isaacs from the Mitchells Plain community police forum. Isaacs says that in September alone, 20 people were killed from gang-related incidents in the area.

“A year ago we were not convinced the SANDF would deal with the genocide. But from August up until now things have become worse. We now fully support the motion [to deploy the army] by Fikile Mbalula.” – via News24

Other community members have warned that things might go even more wrong as residents have turned on law enforcement. The gang violence in Hannover park has become so bad that many are fed up with police.

“This [if the army is deployed] is not going to be easy. Communities have started turning on the police. The army will just be seen as a show of force.”

“[Mbalula] is maybe on the right track, but he needs to consult with us” -Ebrahim Abrahams, Hannover Park community forum

So, it seems that everyone knows the army is not the answer but it is the answer needed for right now. The real question is: Will Minister Mbalula take the time to formulate permanent policing plans to deal with gangs. It’s times like these when one really wishes there was such a thing as a “gang unit,” oh wait…