Soldiers on patrol in Manenberg on the Cape Flats in 2015. Picture: The Times/Esa Alexander
Soldiers on patrol in Manenberg on the Cape Flats in 2015. Picture: The Times/Esa Alexander

The 1980s were a very bad time. In a last, desperate attempt to crush the struggle, the government decided to make war on its own people. Buffels, crewed by white boys armed with assault rifles, rolled into the townships. And hell followed.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde must be a desperate man. The gang violence on the Cape Flats shows no sign of abating. So mothers took their tears to parliament and pleaded for the government to do something, anything.

The president responded by ordering the army onto the Cape Flats in the vain hope that it can succeed where two decades of policing have failed.

Perhaps the move will bring a measure of calm while the gangsters take stock. Then they will adapt to a dramatic change in circumstances, and the gunfire and killings will continue.

In fact, it is not fair to say the police have failed. The cops are locking up gangsters as fast as they can.

But their work is undone by the constant stream of bad guys flowing back onto the streets on parole, or if not, then running their businesses by cellphone from our disgracefully porous jails.

Soldiers cannot arrest anyone. They cannot tell who is a gangster and who a civilian. They move in sections, on foot, where they will be easily separated from their friends and their weapons stolen.

Maybe some of their friends will be killed.

Then watch the "force multiplier" take effect, because if armies are good at one thing, it’s killing people. Call it payback, if you like.

The problem is that this is the Cape Flats, where mothers and children and young men who are trying to stay out of trouble all live.

Someone is going to get hurt.