President Jacob Zuma’s decision to deploy 441 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops and hundreds of police officers for his State of the Nation address (SONA), is a direct insult to the people suffering under gang wars on the Cape Flats.
So says Roegchanda Pascoe, chairperson of the Manenberg Safety Forum.
The president has come under fire by people of all walks of life since the announcement that the SANDF would be helping police maintain law and order at Parliament on Thursday February 9.
Social media was abuzz with criticism over the decision, with many questioning why these resources could not be used to bring calm to war-ravaged Cape Flats areas, including Bonteheuwel, Manenberg, Hanover Park and Bokmakierie.
Ms Pascoe said President Zuma’s life was not under threat, unlike the lives of people in her community. “Dit is ‘* klap in ons gesig. How much did all that cost? Would the money not have been spent better elsewhere, where it is actually needed? Where are the president’s advisers? Mr Zuma mentioned crime, gangs and drugs so ‘by-the-way’ during his speech, but this is not a ‘by-the-way’ situation.
“It seems nobody has the will to take this on. In whose interest is the government acting? On Saturday (February 11), I counted that within one hour, one person was shot in Hanover Park, two in Lentegeur, two in Elsies River and one in Bokmakierie. I don’t even want to count anymore. I don’t even want to say rest in peace anymore. Our people are suffering. We are suffering psychologically.
“Our constitution states that all of us are entitled to safety and security, but this means nothing for the people living on the Cape Flats,” Ms Pasco said.
Gang violence has escalated again in recent weeks, with daily reports of shootings. In one of the latest incidents, the son of community activist Nazeema Samuels was shot and killed on Sunday February 12.
Toufieq Samuels, 24, was buried by Muslim rites on the same day. At the time of going to press, no one had been arrested for his killing.
Ms Samuels is a member of the Hanover Park Society, which was established more than a year ago by gang-violence-weary residents.
The society was established at the Masjiedul Ighlaas, in Lansur Road, and the organisation promotes peace, unity and empowerment.
Judith Kennedy, chairperson of the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (JPF), shared Ms Pascoe’s sentiment. “There’s no political will to sort out issues on the Cape Flats. Instead of investing in our communities, resources are being taken away from the Cape Flats to protect Parliament. On that same night Mr Zuma delivered his State of the Nation address (Thursday November 9), a Grade 8 girl was caught in gang crossfire in Bonteheuwel and was shot in her leg.
“Our communities need the protection more than parliamentarians. Also, there was no holistic approach in his speech, when it came to crime,” Ms Kennedy said.
Ward 50 councillor Angus Mckenzie also made an impassioned plea to the president about the situation in Bonteheuwel. “I want to urge President Zuma to share his forces with the people that really need it,” he said in a statement. “We demand the president must assist us in our fight against gang violence, which is continuing to put innocent peoples lives at risk. If the president is so disconnected from the truth, I encourage him to join me on a walk-about through the streets of Bonteheuwel. Our people are crying out and desperate for the president to assist.”
But not everyone agrees that the SANDF is needed to contain the violence on the Cape Flats. Lester September, an activist and former member of the civilian oversight committee for municipal policing, said the army was not trained to stop gang violence.
Mr September said that if the SANDF had been deployed at Parliament to alleviate the pressure on SAPS – not to take policing resources away from the Cape Flats – then he welcomed it.
“I understand the frustration people have, but bringing the SANDF to contain the gang violence on the Cape Flats would not have a lasting effect. A lot of our social ills today, can be linked to the hard-handedness of the past – when the apartheid government used any opportunity to send in the military. Yes, the Cape Flats needs policing, but the army is not trained for gang intervention.
“The best results I have seen during my time on the oversight committee, was the period between 2003 and 2007, when there was a good relationship between municipal police and SAPS, and also enough municipal resources to support SAPS. During that period, gang wars were almost non-existent, because I remember during that time, about 40 Metro police members supported SAPS Philippi to deal with the gang violence in Hanover Park.
“The Metro police and SAPS have the training to deal with gangs, not the SANDF,” Mr September said.
Meanwhile, National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said it “has taken note of the sensation created out of the deployment of the SANDF”.
He said: “This is not an extraordinary measure. The SANDF is part and parcel of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster and the NATJOINTS. Their support role in securing the State of the Nation address remains critical, and they were allowed to take their rightful place,” he said.