Dear President Jacob Zuma
Re: A near-term solution to lowering violence among gang-torn communities
Mr President, I realise you have been asked to deploy the army on the Cape Flats before. But the day a president declares a state of emergency and asks troops to restore order among civilians is a terrible day.
For Helen Zille to once again ask for the army to be sent in is disingenuous. She knows only too well that it won’t be done. Gangsterism is not a military problem. It’s a socioeconomic one.
But something needs to be done. At any given moment in the Western Cape, there is a child in a hospital fighting for his or her life because of being caught in gang crossfire.
Last week I almost wrote to you to add my voice to the call that the army be deployed to combat gangsterism on the Cape Flats. But I could not bring myself to write that letter. And then the news broke that our military is in such a critical state of decline that it could take ten years to fix.
Many more young coloured men are dying every day than the white rhino. But the rhino dominates international headlines; the deaths of our people are simply fodder for local tabloids. The deaths of the rhino are such a hot topic on government’s agenda that you were willing to send in the army to protect the rhino. The army even crashed a helicopter in the Kruger Park while trying to save the rhinos.
But I don’t give a damn about the damn rhino any more. I wish they could all be wiped out tomorrow so that our people could move higher up the priority ladder. We can’t play second fiddle to the rhino.
Sending in the army is not the solution, but we do need a solution.
Part of the solution is the SA Cape Corps (SACC). There are more than 72 000 of them in the Western Cape alone. They have not enjoyed the same recognition as the other military veterans groups, but they remain proud soldiers who want to serve this country. They were made to fight by the apartheid government and were treated as second-class soldiers. But they were among the best soldiers the SA army produced. And now they are being treated as second-class citizens by the post-apartheid government too.
But they are soldiers, proud ones who should not be disregarded … as they have been for so long.
These soldiers are highly trained, experienced and fearless. It is simply good fortune for South Africa that most of them have resisted becoming part of gang activities, even though many are today without work and are being made to wait and to fight for their benefits after all those years of service.
They still want to contribute. I hear it from them every day.
Re-enlist and redeploy these highly trained men and women to keep law and order in our ganglands.
They can be re-equipped, given refresher courses within a matter of weeks and our communities will be safer immediately.
The police are no longer the solution. The courts are not the solution. The prisons are not the solution.
Our police force is compromised. Some police officers are themselves part of gangs. The insiders warn gangs when raids are about to happen. They arrange raids on rival gangs to confiscate drugs, abalone or other illicit materials, only to ensure the confiscated goods end up in the hands of other gangs, their gangs. So the drugs keep coming. The wars continue.
The police are no longer respected. They have lost authority. Many of our policemen are themselves struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction or simply low morale. Many policemen are being asked to patrol in areas where they grew up and where they and their families still live. The gangsters know exactly who they are and can threaten their families.
That’s not even the worst of it. Years ago, I was myself a gangster. Nothing made me happier than a policeman who preferred to get a loan from a gangster than from a loan shark. It only takes a small percentage of corrupt cops to undo the work of all the good cops. There are good cops out there, but they are not winning the battle.
As many as 3 000 service firearms go “lost” every year. They are the same guns the outlaws use on the streets to wage their gang wars. The fact that police guns are being used by gangs is the biggest sign that our police are incapable of eradicating gangsterism.
We need to face facts and send in the SACC. We need to prevent violence instead of mopping up behind it. We are mopping up the blood of our children.
We need the gang squad to be brought back, but it will take time to recruit and train cops who we will be able to trust in the fight against gangsterism. What happens over the next year, if an interim force isn’t there to restore peace? My party, the Patriotic Alliance, has managed to negotiate a peace settlement among the gangs in Manenberg and other areas, including Kraaifontein. And we are still working in Mitchells Plain and other towns including Worcestor. Our peace has a chance, but it cannot be a permanent solution. The SACC is not a permanent solution either, but someone needs to be there while the gang squad is being prepared; some group needs to be there to stop our children from being killed just because their auntie sent them to the shop to buy bread. Major-General Vearey and his men are not enough to make a big enough dent in the fight against gang violence. We need to send in the SA Cape Corps.
Restoring hope and opportunities to people in gang-affected communities is the most important tool to encouraging people as a group to make the right choices every day, because they should know that there are options available to them to survive that do not include violence and having the “most fearsome reputation in the neighbourhood”. But to date, no political administration has done nearly enough to create such a sense of hope and renewal and this is the only thing that will bring long-term positive change. But in the meantime, our people need the SA Cape Corps.
It’s election season, so all politicians will try in some way to score cheap points out of their reactions to the gang violence, but none of that is saving our children.
Let us work together to bring a lasting peace to the Western Cape. Let our communities work together to manage their own problems, and the SACC are from these communities, they are part of these communities. They should be a big part of the solution.
I trust you will apply your mind and considerable resources, Mr President, to these suggestions. I would appreciate an open dialogue with you on finding a national solution to this problem as gangsterism ultimately affects us all. I shall also be circulating this letter to the media in the interests of openness and an invitation to the public to add their voice, either for or against, suggestions for what needs to be done to create peace in what are often little more than civilian war zones.
Mr Gayton McKenzie
President, Patriotic Alliance