Calling in the army off-base
IN a country as crime-ridden as ours, it is understandable why the call by Police Minister Fikile Mbalula for the army to be brought in to assist the police in the fight against crime would be applauded by some.
It is a known fact that criminals rule the roost in our communities. Residents live in constant fear of being attacked or even killed by merciless thugs who control our neighbourhoods. The situation, particularly in Cape Town, is really bad. To say that it is a war-zone is no exaggeration.
Running battles between criminal gangs and vigilantes in Marikana informal settlement, outside Cape Town, have left a shocking 23 people dead. This all happened over a two-week period and the body continues to grow. So when a police minister stands on a public platform and calls on his Defence counterpart Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to assist him in fighting gangs in Cape Town and Johannesburg, it may sound like the perfect antidote to our crime problem. In a statement released on Wednesday, Mbalula said criminals armed with “weapons of war” were terrorising communities. “It has been decided that urgent additional steps must be taken in order to interdepartmentally manage the current scourge of crime in general.
“Stabilisation and combating of these criminal activities are within the mandate of the South African Police Service but due to the large groupings and military training of some of the perpetrators, the SANDF is requested to assist,” said the statement.
The decision to deploy the army rests with President Jacob Zuma as he is the only one who can do so constitutionally.
So Mbalula has effectively passed the buck on to his boss. It is worth noting that the call for army deployment to crime hotspots was first made by Western Cape premier Helen Zille. But the then police minister Nathi Mthethwa had rejected the call, arguing that the police were more than capable of combating crime.
Basically Mbalula’s call has confirmed our worst fears – that police have lost the battle against crime. They can no longer be relied upon to protect us. Effectively he is saying that the police are not coping.
But bringing in the army will not solve our crime problem.
As the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) correctly put it, bringing out the army is just a short-term solution and will not resolve the underlying problems facing our police. ISS’s Gareth Newham said Mbalula must instead fix the police.
“What needs to happen is that we need to fix the police‚ starting with the senior management. Over the last six years we have seen the police budget go up by 50% to the current budget of R87-billion …We have had an increase in budget but deterioration in police performance. This has provided space for an increase in organised crime‚” said Newham. Deploying the soldiers is not a panacea to our crime problem. Besides a momentary reduction in crime, as police and army visibility will deter the criminals, not much will change. As army deployment is never permanent, this means that the mayhem will resume as soon as the soldiers return to their barracks. Mbalula must do his job and leave populist rhetoric to others.