South Africa sends troops into 'warzone' township

Peta Thornycroft
Law enforcement agents move through the Cape Flats township  - Getty Images Europe

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa ordered troops into the suburbs of Cape Town to quell a crime wave that municipal officials say has turned the city into a “warzone.”

Hundreds of soldiers will be deployed into sprawling area of townships known as the Cape Flats to combat gang-related violence that saw 14 people killed in 24 hours last week. 

More than 900 people have been killed in gang-related violence in the Cape Flats in the past year. 

Last Friday, six women between the ages of 18 and 26 were murdered by unknown gunmen at a home in a shanty town in the area.

The next day another five men, aged 18 to 39, were shot dead and one was injured in two separate shooting incidents in the township of Philippi. The victims included three members of the same family: Sonwabo Zwilibi's, 17, and his brother Aphiwe, 18, and their cousin Sikelela Zwilibi, 25. 

Six policemen have also been shot and injured in the past week.    Bheki Cele, the Police Minister,  said the military deployment would last three months and see troops backing up police officers. 

“We'll go door to door, we'll collect every illegal firearm, we'll collect all criminals that we want, we'll collect all outstanding criminals that have been on bail and that is happening from two o'clock this morning,” he said. 

The opposition Democratic Alliance, which control Cape Town and the Western Cape province, welcomed the move. 

“We have truly reached a state of emergency, which threatens the stability and reputation of the city,“ said  Jean-Pierre Smith, a DA mayoral committee member for safety and security.  

He said the people of the Western Cape needed the army “because they want safety.“

More than 20,000 people, or 57 per day, were murdered in South Africa last year. 

Under apartheid, South Africa’s Group Areas legislation assigned all the different racial groups to separate residential and business districts, mostly in urban areas 

Many people of mixed race who used to live close to the heart of Cape Town were uprooted from their homes in the 1950s and moved to the Cape Flats, a treeless, sandy area of ancient former beaches, so that the inner city would be exclusive to white people.  

“This situation has its roots in the history of South Africa. People were removed from their homes and dumped far away to areas where there was nothing, no society no shops, nothing,” said Jakkie Cilliers, head of African Futures & Innovation at South Africa’s influential Institute for Security Studies. ”This created a generation of alcoholics which had a particularly violent impact in the Western Cape.”