Army on streets is cop­ping out

The Citizen (KZN) - - OPINION -

The de­ci­sion by Min­is­ter of Po­lice Fik­ile Mbalula to call in the SA Na­tional De­fence Force (SANDF) to help quell gang vi­o­lence in the Western Cape and Gaut­eng has been wel­comed in some quar­ters. Western Cape Premier He­len Zille called it a “step in the right di­rec­tion”, but said it should be re­garded as no more than an in­terim mea­sure. She sug­gested the po­lice’s spe­cialised gang units, which were dis­banded sev­eral years ago, should be re­vived.

We agree that gang vi­o­lence and crim­i­nal­ity has reached such lev­els in both provinces that a ma­jor move is nec­es­sary. How­ever, there is a down­side to the lat­est devel­op­ment.

Any coun­try which has to de­ploy its mil­i­tary to se­cure in­ter­nal peace is clearly a coun­try where law and or­der is dis­in­te­grat­ing. It is also a coun­try where the po­lice have proved in­ad­e­quate to the task of con­trol­ling gangs.

The very im­age of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles in sub­urbs and pa­trolling sol­diers armed with as­sault ri­fles sends a stark mes­sage: this is a war zone. That mes­sage will dis­turb not only South African cit­i­zens, but also out­siders, such as tourists and po­ten­tial in­vestors.

Another ma­jor neg­a­tive to the de­ploy­ment of troops is that they are trained to re­spond to threats with max­i­mum force. This is what hap­pens in war. Per­haps this is what Mbalula – a man so beloved of grand ges­tures – is hop­ing to use to scare the gang­sters into sub­mis­sion.

But hav­ing troops in the streets could es­ca­late the vi­o­lence, es­pe­cially in the ma­cho cul­ture of gangs, where en­gag­ing in real fire­fights with real sol­diers could be­come a badge of hon­our.

We need to see a re­turn to nor­mal polic­ing as soon as pos­si­ble, with tough, but not mil­i­tary tough, ac­tions be­ing taken.

The SANDF is, af­ter all, meant to pro­tect us against ex­ter­nal threats, and not make a min­is­ter look bet­ter.

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