Over 900 killed in South Africa drug, gangster violence; govt deploys Army
South Africa has begun deploying its army to quell gang violence in impoverished parts of Cape Town after 900 people were murdered so far this year.
While the deployment in support of an overwhelmed police force may be welcome by some residents, it also evokes memories of the military presence during the last years of apartheid, when the government crushed protests with a heavy hand. The army deployment is centered on the Cape Flats area, where the apartheid government housed the city’s large mixed-race population.
“The problem is that the police live in these areas and so are easily intimidated by the gangs,” said Howard Solomon, 53, a former policeman and municipal employee in a Cape Flats suburb called Grassy Park.
The Cape Flats are sandy, windswept and poor, in stark contrast to the picturesque Cape Town frequently voted in international surveys as one of the world’s best places to visit. Many residents are unemployed and live in neighborhoods of low-rise apartment blocks riddled with rampant abuse of crystal meth, known locally as tik, and menaced by gun-toting gangs that go by names such as the Americans, the Hard Livings gang and the Sexy Boys.
“For those of us who can remember what it was like to have troops in the townships in the 1980s and early 1990s this is very worrying,” said Chandre Gould, a senior research fellow at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “It’s really a sign of desperation.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa dismissed any parallels between the current deployment of troops and those of the apartheid era.
“This is a defense force of a democratic South Africa,” he told lawmakers in Cape Town on Thursday.
Since the end of apartheid, the army has been deployed sparingly to combat crime and unrest in South Africa, most notably during xenophobic riots in 2008 and 2015. Some residents worry that the latest deployment could have limited results.
“I saw gangsters burying their stuff last week already,” said Faladehla Williamson, 42, a single mother of two in Grassy Park. “I don’t think the army or the police will find anything.”
The number of murders this year has outstripped the total for the 12 months to the end of September in 2018, complicating efforts to address the root causes of gang violence, Gould said.
“It’s very hard to be delivering parenting programs when bullets are flying overhead,” she said.