Mhambi has been redeployed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Time to call the army?

A policeman pulls a blanket off an unidentified man who was set alight in Reiger Park, south of Johannesburg. (AP)

Mhambi is refreshing his news feeds, and the news is getting scarier and scarier. Should the government not deploy the army? We need to stop this violence against foreigners now.

A policeman guarding a victim of the attacks in Johannesburg. Photograph: Kim Ludbrook/EPA

Mhambi this evening spoke to a friend in the know and they cautioned against the use of the army. The SANDF is not trained to deal with these kinds of situations and there are serious question marks over the armies current training in general.

Much better to deploy more police apparently. The Police have more local knowledge and can deal with the subtleties of each situation. The army is a blunt instrument and could make the situation worse.

But perhaps the SANDF could be deployed to guard certain areas while the police go to work on the mobs.

Imtiaz Sooliman of the Gift of the Givers, a charity group that has been handing out blankets and food to affected people all week, said his organization had been called in to help at a police station in Germiston, east of the Johannesburg city center.

He said that violence had raged for four hours overnight and that by the end of it 2,000 people were waiting for help.

"My staff said it was like a war zone," Sooliman said. "There was lots of police, and stones being thrown. They said it looked like the police couldn't cope."

Eric Goemaere, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières in South Africa, said his staff was helping to treat people with bullet wounds and back injuries - the result of being thrown out of windows.

He said that the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, home to hundreds of Zimbabweans, had been under siege overnight and that the police had told people they should be prepared to defend themselves.

"It's a crisis," Goemaere said. He called on the government to declare Zimbabweans - there are believed to be up to three million in South Africa - as refugees and give them proper protection.

Apparently the Johannesburg CBD is a war zone.

PASSOP's Braam Hanekom has expressed fears that the violence will spread to the Cape.

People Against Suffering Suppression Oppression and Poverty (Passop) spokesperson Braam Hanekom said what foreigners in Alexandra had experienced was appalling.

Hanekom went as far as comparing the treatment foreigners received in parts of South Africa to the treatment the Jews suffered in the early years of "Hitler's rule in Germany".

"They are hunted down, searched for their IDs and chased away. The state needs to take a fair share of blame as they are the ones who do not give the immigrants the necessary documents they need to live in this country.

"By not giving these immigrants the necessary documents, communities interpret that as if they are criminals. We've got a huge problem of thousands of immigrants not having documents to be in this country."

He said he hoped the latest string of xenophobic attacks would not spread south, although he feared there was a good chance they would.

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Mike said...

Wessel, there are so many aspects to this ugly events one can comment on. However, for now I'll only deal with your reference to whether or not the SANDF should be deployed to help stem the violence.

Yes, the defence force is relatively poorly trained for this kind of operation. However, with all the peace missions that it has been involved with over the last decade one would hope that there would at least be some foundation to act from. Another factor is that when the Defence Force (then SADF / SAW) was deployed in townships previously, to curtail violence, we still lived in Apartheid South Africa (I stand to be corrected on this...). That is young conscript whiteys patrolled black townships. Townships are still very much black... but soldiers are now much more representative of the community. In the current situation it helps if the guy shouting at you to get out of here looks like you and does so in your own language... It is a blunt instrument, but in a way we're dealing with a 'blunt' situation here. Initially to stem the violence well-managed and limited force will be necessary.

However, having said all of the above - I believe the biggest problem with deploying the military has nothing to do with the SANDF's ability to do the work. It has everything to do with the Government's (Cabinet's) image. To be fair, also with the country's image. Instituting commissions of enquiry and stating that the police needs to deal sternly with the mobs does not reflect well on the powers that be. But, i.t.o. image, deploying the defence force is much much worse.

However, the increasing scale of these terrible events may leave Government with no choice. But the inconvenience for Government is that deploying the defence force will make the issue more prominent. In return this will only increase the critical questions about how Government could have prevented the situation in the first place. For example, could it have done more to deal with the Zimbabwe issue, to process and protect refugees (especially refugees from a neighbour's crisis it doesn't like to acknowledge), to fight crime and poverty, to improve education and service delivery, to stem corruption and nepotism? The list is nauseatingly long.

Wouldn't it be nice if these questions could be addressed seriously by Government without the incentive of mob justice and innocent people dying in our streets...

The situation in my mind is very close to the point where our dear President should phone his mouthpiece -the SABC-, order a camera team to his office, and address the nation clearly - stating that xenophobia is 100% unacceptable and the perpetrators thereof can expect the worse. Dream on Mike...

Wessel said...

All good points Mike. But I don't know if Mbeki making a speech would work. His credibility is zero.

Zuma should be on the ground, speaking to people.

Perhaps we do need the army now even if its a blunt instrument. It's best to stop this as quickly as possible. It's creating instability and could soon become something else. There are reports of Venda's being attacked. The ethic wars of the early 1990's could be reignited.

You are probably right in your assessment of the cabinets image.

Wessel said...

Mike further to this LHR has come out against a deployment.

But I posted this on the Constitutionally speaking blog.

I broadly agree with LHR in the sense that the army is trained to kill, to not arrest, And they don’t have local knowledge that police often have.

Having said that Beeld reported on the shortages of equipment, vehicles etc that the police have this week. Also, the police don’t have that much person power.

When people like Bishop Verryn comments that it seems to him the police can not cope and when some policemen say so themselves then this begs the question.

When I was working on the Angolan War documentary that starts broadcasting in July on Kyknet (plug) we interviewed Adriaan Vlok.

One of the significant things he said was the violence that started in September 84 (so called Swart September) and even more so in 1985 when the ANC at the Kabwe conference did a call on people to make the townships ungovernable.

Vlok, looking puppy eyed said, we just could not cope, we needed the army. Using the army then had mixed results. In places like Mamelodi there is no question that it brought the levels of violence down dramatically and saved lives.

The army was actually seen as less political that the police then. So this is a difficult call. But I would send the in in a supporting cacity to free the police up to work elsewhere."