Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea

Journalist


Army call-up not the answer for SA’s crime-ridden areas

South Africans have called on Police Minister Bheki Cele to resign or the SANDF to be deployed in areas where crime was rampant


In the wake of more horrific crimes reported across the country, soldiers would not combat crime, and sending in the military would only create false hope, according to a military expert, as police resources came under increasing pressure from violence and organised crime.

South Africans have called on Police Minister Bheki Cele to resign or the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to be deployed in areas where crime was rampant. However, Darren Olivier, director of the African Defence Review, said there was no “fast or easy way out of this crisis, nor any magic solution”.

Urgent interventions could help at least temporarily, such as the recent deployment of more police from specialised units, like the SA Police Service’s (Saps) Special Task Force, Tactical Task Team and National Intervention Unit.

“The national focus should result in better resources being allocated from Saps’ Crime Intelligence and the Detective Service [divisions], but these will take those resources away from other areas and are ultimately a short-term fix only,” he said. “The calls for the military to be sent in are understandable, given how desperate people are, but it is a false hope.

“The SANDF lacks the manpower, training, capabilities, and legal mandate to solve crime problems like this, and should only be deployed in cases where broader unrest is expected.”

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He also noted the SANDF was, for good reasons, legally forbidden from replacing the Saps in a crime-fighting role, which disallowed it from conducting its own criminal investigations except for the military police investigating SANDF members.

“What’s needed is a renewed national debate on crime, both in terms of its social causes and our approach to fighting it, drawing on the decades of research and policy proposals created by universities and think tanks like the Institute for Security Studies [ISS],” he added.

“We also need a real commitment from government and the ruling party to making police reform a key priority, with transparent plans, stated milestones, and proper accountability mechanisms.

“It will take years to get a handle on this crime wave, but that’s no excuse for inaction. Each year we stick to the status quo … the situation worsens.”

Criminologist Dr Annette Hübschle said it was a long game with many layers and needs before South Africa could say it had lost the war against crime, as the country needed a whole-of-society approach.

“We all have a role to play in making sure our country and communities are safe,” she said. “Many communities and neighbourhoods have come together and work with Saps, provincial and national government officials and private security providers in shaping security arrangements.”

Hübschle said while Saps was under pressure to contain rampant violence, the fight had to start in the homes, families and schools to “support our children so they feel cared for and safe”.

“An important aspect of crime prevention is to provide opportunities for social mobility: we need to ensure equal access to education, artisanal and technical training, safe houses for women and girls,” she added.

“Targeted programming for problematic substance abuse, mental health clinics, more social workers, support for victims of GBV [gender-based violence].”

“We also need a well-functioning criminal justice system which deals with offenders in a just, swift and efficient manner.”

Police stats revealed a major shift in the number of violent crimes in July, while the quarter was considered the worst for the same period over the last five years. Saps reported 3 193 suspects arrested for GBV, 576 for murder, 360 for attempted murder, 432 for rape and 177 for sexual offences.

During an ISS webinar last Friday, criminologist Irvin Kinnes said, according to police figures, mass shootings increased by almost 50% from 2017-18 to 2019-20.

The provision of police resources and joint efforts between communities and law enforcement were instrumental in tackling criminal syndicates, he said.

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