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Sending in the army helpful - but not nearly enough

The Times Editorial | 2012-07-12 00:01:35.0

The Times Editorial: The minister of police and his national commissioner yesterday went on a tour of the Cape Flats ganglands.

Nathi Mthethwa and recently appointed commissioner Riah Phiyega decided to visit Hanover Park and Lavender Hill after Western Cape Premier Helen Zille asked for an army presence in both areas.

Zille, in a letter to President Jacob Zuma, said: "It is clear that the current situation has become an emergency and is beyond the capacity of the SAPS to control. They need the support of the SANDF to restore order in these suburbs."

Gang warfare has intensified across the Cape Flats recently, leaving many innocent people injured or dead. But it appears that Mthethwa does not believe - as Zille does - that additional security in the form of soldiers will bring about change.

He told reporters after his visit that the violence stems from underlying socioeconomic issues and bringing in the army would therefore not bring about to change.

Mthethwa is correct on some levels. Apartheid and its iniquitous laws, such as the Group Areas Act, did indeed create the conditions for what is happening now on the Cape Flats. For these Capetonians, being stuck in urban bantustans meant being deprived of meaningful opportunities for upward mobility which, in turn, offered fertile ground for gangs to emerge and flourish.

In this sense, Mthethwa is right. A platoon will not turn back decades of sociopathic behaviour.

But an improved security presence might show residents that something is being done to keep their families safe - at least for now.

At the very least, it would offer a bit more than the usual platitudes dished out to the survivors of gang wars - the ANC would be saying that the government actually cares about the people of the Cape Flats and that they are not, as they have been in the past, of no interest to the ruling party.

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