Following a week of waiting for the army to arrive in troubled precincts on the volatile Cape Flats, residents breathed a sigh of relief as troops finally rolled in on Thursday afternoon.
But their arrival was greeted with mixed emotions.
In the streets of Philippi East township, where 11 people – six women and five men – were gunned down a fortnight ago, some people watched them enter with jubilation, others with anger.
Most residents questioned the secrecy surrounding the army’s deployment. Overall, though, a sense of relief dominated.
“What took them so long?” asked a resident among the crowd that had amassed in the street, watching the armoured vehicles and troops entering.
As early as last Friday, members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had touched down in Cape Town to much fanfare, but their deployment was delayed.
Defence force spokesperson Brigadier-General Mafi Mgobozi attributed the delay to outstanding paperwork and a process of mission-readiness orientation that the soldiers had to undergo.
Mgobozi told City Press that the army’s job was to assist police on the ground and that soldiers would be under police command.
Soldiers moved into the Cape Flats on Thursday after President Cyril Ramaphosa gave the green light for their deployment. The primary focus areas for the army are Manenberg and Philippi, which have been ripped apart by gang violence. The army, police and metro police are working together to combat the volatile situation. Pictures: Jaco Marais
He reiterated a call made by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Wednesday, during her budget vote speech, that Cape Flats criminals should “not make a mistake of provoking the soldiers”.
“As the minister rightly pointed out, we only know three Bs, namely the boot, the barrel and the bullet,” said Mgobozi.
“We have no training in crime control and our task here is merely to make sure that police do their job without any disruptions. But we are confident that since all residents want is peace and stability in their communities, they won’t stand in our way and in the way of the police.”
Last week, Police Minister Bheki Cele announced a joint operation between the SANDF and the police in gang- and crime-infested areas of the Cape Flats, including Philippi East, Hanover Park, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Manenberg and Bishop Lavis.
This latest measure was sparked by a spate of murders in Philippi East and Hanover Park.
Meanwhile, Western Cape police have offered a R70 000 reward to anyone who can assist in tracing six “people of interest” linked to the Philippi East killings.
Cape Town police spokesperson Captain Frederick van Wyk identified the wanted men as Siphenkosi Gwazekhaya, also known as “Bhoyoyo”, Shane Madolo, Thamsanqa Lande, Lubabalo Phethelo, Onke Thafu and Oyam Hlamu, also known as “Mashesha”.
As the army conducted raids in Philippi East this week, one family was preparing to transport the body of their loved one back to Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape for burial, scheduled to take place yesterday.
The family of 19-year-old Zolisa Buthongo, who was among those killed, told City Press that they were contemplating moving out of Philippi East after their son’s brutal murder.
“It is not safe here. Yes, the army has arrived and we will feel safe for a certain period. But we are told the army will move out in three months’ time when things cool down. But then the thugs will strike again,” said Buthongo’s relative, Lumko Buthongo.
A military vehicle makes its way into Philippi after the army’s deployment in the area. Picture: Jaco Marais
One resident alleged that the six men being sought by the police for the murders were known by the community but people were too scared to come forward.
He said that the parents of the criminals were hiding them and were not cooperating with the police.
“The taxi industry here was willing to assist in tracking down these thugs and ensuring that they are dealt with, but some parents were against taxi operators assisting. They know that taxi operators don’t play games and mean business,” she said.
“What is sad is that most parents are defending their sons, who are criminals. They transport them to the Eastern Cape to hide there because they know that they benefit from the blood money.”
The resident added that during the time in which the deployment of the army was delayed, many people had fallen victim this week to the criminals, and more lives were lost in the area.
“I don’t know what caused the delay. It seems as if there is no sense of urgency from the government to ensure that we are safe,” she said.