The Minister of Police Bheki Cele. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA
The Minister of Police Bheki Cele. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA

Police minister Bheki Cele doesn’t want SA National Defence Force (SANDF) units deployed to the Cape Flats as this would be an admission that an undermanned and leaderless Western Cape SA Police Service (SAPS) has lost authority in this difficult area.

Conceding authority, while not easy to achieve, is extremely difficult to recover once lost. If the drift continues I expect to see “no-go” areas emerging with vigilante groups of various complexions introducing an alternative system of rough justice.

Deployed quickly, the SANDF can probably still adopt an “enabling” role with the SAPS. If left for much longer, given the levels of violence it will become more of a takeover, requiring internment without trial and even military courts.

However, the deployment of military units requires careful planning if it is not to make the situation worse. Soldiers, after all, are essentially trained to kill, not keep the peace. High-velocity ammunition can inflict dreadful collateral damage in dense housing, especially shacks.

Northern Ireland’s experience during the Troubles is instructive. After Bloody Sunday, for which taxpayers are still footing the bill, specialised training improved the value of having soldiers on the ground.

Defending understaffed police stations, especially at night, gathering intelligence, manning road blocks and conducting searches in conjunction with SAPS personnel will be critical in turning the tide. But it won’t be easy, mistakes will be made and further innocent lives lost.

To manage the risk, whoever is in charge could do worse than recruit some retired British military officers who served in Northern Ireland, as well as suitably experienced members of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary. Their experience would be invaluable.

James Cunningham
Camps Bay