Mbalula wants army in crime hotspots as soon as possible

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula
Picture: Anesh Debiky / Gallo Images

But only president can give go-ahead on troops

If Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has his way, the army will be supporting police in the Western Cape and Gauteng in the next week.

This comes after former police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko announced a grand plan in February last year to stop gangsterism in Port Elizabeth, with the army to be deployed in the northern areas.

But a month later, it amounted to nothing more than “visible policing” after Nhleko had initially made the promise of a joint army and police intervention to curb the ongoing violence in the gang-plagued area.

Yesterday, Mbalula’s spokesman, Vuyo Mhaga, said it was not up to the minister to make a decision on army support for the Western Cape and Gauteng.

Mhaga said they had asked Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s office to approach President Jacob Zuma. Only the president could deploy the troops.

Mhaga said it would depend on the police to determine the hotspots.

“But in a democratic country‚ soldiers can’t be deployed permanently [in the country].”

He said the personnel on the ground would make an assessment as to when the army was no longer needed.

The last time the army was deployed to assist police in certain areas was in 2015 during Operation Fiela, in response to violence against foreign nationals.

Asked if Mbalula’s call was for a similar role‚ Mhaga said a decision would be made by SAPS generals on how to use the army personnel.

“[We would like them deployed] as soon as possible‚ in a couple of weeks if not a week, but as soon as we get the go-ahead we will prepare to be on the ground‚” he said.

Mhaga said the call by Mbalula was not an admission of police failure but to augment the work being done by the SAPS.

Asked if Mbalula’s call was influenced by a similar appeal on Monday by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille‚ Mhaga said: “Far from it. Decisions are taken based on the assessments that the police make and then they request resources.”

Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokeswoman‚ Joy Peter‚ confirmed that the minister had received Mbalula’s request, but said she could not comment.

Zille said yesterday that Mbalula could not absolve himself and the police from their constitutional mandate.

“We reiterate our calls for minister Mbalula to immediately reinstate the specialised gang units‚ which were disbanded several years ago with no explanation‚” she said.

“This would serve as a permanent force in gang-ridden areas. How much longer should communities wait for this, given President Zuma’s promise in early 2016 to reinstate the units?”

She said deployment of soldiers would provide short-term stabilisation in areas with high gang activity, but the need remained for a permanent solution in the Western Cape.

“It is unfathomable that the SAPS plans to cut 3 000 police officers from the Western Cape at a time when police-to-population ratios are soaring well above the national average.”

Meanwhile, Bay mayor Athol Trollip said he had written to Mbalula on August 14, requesting his urgent intervention to deal with gangsterism and other crimes plaguing the metro.

He requested a meeting to discuss crime in the Bay, but had yet to hear from Mbalula.

“I personally believe that the military should only ever be used as a last resort in civilian deployment,” Trollip said.

“We saw what deployment of the military did during apartheid. We should beef up our police services, not our rhetoric.”

Trollip said the police were severely understaffed and under-resourced.

“There are so many able-bodied people who are literally dying for an opportunity to become police officers to protect their communities.”

– Additional reporting by Dave Chambers and Michael Kimberley

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