There’ll be no Christmas holidays for hundreds of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members stationed in gang hotspots across the Cape Town area.
They’ve been deployed in 10 gang-plagued neighbourhoods since July with a mandate of assisting police in crime-fighting operations.
Provincial politicians and communities had been calling for the deployment of the army for years and when the number of dead in gang violence spiked earlier this year those calls were finally heeded.
Many residents celebrated in the moment but as the weeks and months have worn on, communities have questioned whether they are actually effective.
More than 1,000 soldiers are tasked with helping police in their crime-fighting efforts with a total budget of R23 million.
SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said the soldiers were deployed on a rotational basis to ensure they were at full capacity over the festive season.
“After a certain period of time, you rotate certain members and bring in new members who’ve been training and on standby to come in.”
Initially, soldiers were supposed to be deployed for three months but in September, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the extension of their deployment will run till the end of March next year.
That’s something military and defence analyst Helmoed Heitman believes is a hopeful sign.
“With he extension of six months, assuming the police have been doing their job properly, that should’ve bought them time to build an intelligence picture and before the army leaves, go and pull out the key leaders out of the gangs and neutralise them that way.”
But the long-term future for the people of the Cape Flats ganglands will rest on a proper integrated plan being implemented to ensure the causes of the violence are addressed.