IN a bold move, the military and other state agencies are being roped in to fight gang warfare in the Eastern and Western Cape. Gang hotspots – including Helenvale, Gelvandale and Bethelsdorp in Port Elizabeth and Lavender Hill and Hanover Park in the Western Cape – are believed to have been prioritised.
While officials at the various departments involved are tightlipped about the matter, The Herald has seen a national order – sent to both the Eastern and Western Cape police commissioners by National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure chairman Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela – instructing them to form the Provincial Priority Committee to clamp down on gang warfare and drug hotspots.
The order also spells out what roles the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), the Home Affairs, Correctional Services and Justice departments, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and other organisations will play.
President Jacob Zuma was moved to action by Western Cape premier and DA national leader Helen Zille who pleaded with him last month to deploy the military to curb gang warfare, specifically on the Cape Flats.
Eastern Cape provincial police spokeswoman Brigadier Marinda Mills refused to comment yesterday, saying the order was a classified operational matter.
"We cannot divulge operational information but I can highlight that the fight against gangsterism is a top priority,” she said.
The instruction to establish the team comes just weeks after Zuma asked Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula to prioritise gang warfare in the two provinces.
The ministers and their advisers met in the middle of last month to discuss ways to curb gangsterism.
A four-page document, titled "Combating gangsterism in Western Cape and Eastern Cape”, came about as a result of the meeting and stipulates that role-players must take a "proactive and reactive” approach to combating drug and gang-related crimes.
The document lists five main operational focuses – stability operations including roadblocks and vehicle checkpoints, enhanced crime prevention, effective border management through ports of entry, enhanced intelligence-driven operations and prompt investigation of all cases.
Furthermore, it spells out the roles each entity will play.
The defence force will provide airborne support, logistical support and accommodation for police.
"[The] SANDF will only physically be involved during intelligence-driven operations with regards to cordon and search,” the document says.
The order also directs the NPA to implement measures to "speedily and effectively finalise specific arrests and incidents” and to implement an effective witness protection system.
The Correctional Services Department is tasked with preventing gangsterism activities in prison and to provide "... strategic detention of offenders related to gang violence”.
Former police commissioner and senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, Dr Johan Burger, said while the military would assist with curbing violent attacks, it was merely "buying time” for government role- players to find a long-term solution.
"This will address the short-term issues and, to some degree, will work on the problem at hand which is the violence and drug issues.
"It will, however, not address the long-term issue of gangsterism or drugs as this needs to be formulated in a strategy which does not involve the military,” he said.
"The military will only be called in for a few months to reassure residents and stabilise the area. Once the forces get withdrawn, the underlying issues such as social economic poverty will still be there, and these are the points that need to be addressed in a long-term strategy.”
Burger said success would "boil down to how the members are deployed and what their role in combating crime will be”.
"If it involves the military enforcing the law, they will automatically be given the same powers as the police. However, the question then is whether they have been educated in how to enforce the law?”
National police spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo refused to comment on the order, saying it was strictly confidential.
"This is the reason why we want the information bill to be passed. These are operational issues and I do not know how they got into the hands of the media.”
Mthethwa’s spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, said he did not know the outcome of the meeting.
SANDF spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said he was awaiting a formal response from his seniors.