The City of Cape Town on Friday welcomed the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to gang-infested areas, but said it should have been done before "hundreds and hundreds of unnecessary deaths".
"The crime stats in these communities have truly reached a state of emergency and threaten the stability and reputation of the city as a whole," said City safety and security mayoral committee member JP Smith on Friday.
He said Police Minister Bheki Cele and President Cyril Ramaphosa had finally heard their calls over several years for the military to stabilise areas and assist police in curbing gang violence.
"... but it took threats of court action and community shutdowns to get them to respond. It would have been better for them to do the right thing for the right reason when the crisis first started, and not after hundreds and hundreds of unnecessary deaths before action is taken," Smith said.
In the early hours of Friday morning, Cele, his deputy Cassel Mathale and national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole briefed dozens of officers ahead of their deployment into Philippi East and surrounding areas.
On Thursday, Cele said he had spoken to his counterpart in the defence department, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, earlier this week following the murders of 13 people in the space of 24 hours in Philippi last weekend.
He denied that the president had made the decision based on the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) calls.
'Short-term stop gap'
Smith replied: "The statement by the minister that the deployment of the military is not in response to the insistent requests by the DA, almost certainly means that it is, although it matters little why he has done it and it matters only that he is doing the right thing."
Smith said they had fought over the years for specialised units, the replacement of police officers in the Western Cape and solutions for an under-resourced police service.
He said investments in social development and infrastructure to help normalise conditions in affected areas were not possible if stabilisation was not achieved first.
"In other words, the bullets must stop flying before clinics and libraries can stay open, social housing can be improved and the important normal functioning of the community can resume and investment and jobs can be attracted."
He pointed out that the deployment of the military was, "at best, a short-term stop gap" and that only addressing problems within the South African Police Service would bring progress.
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde also welcomed the intervention, saying it was time "to get drastic".
He said, last weekend alone, 55 deaths by gunshot or stabbing had been recorded in the province.
'We need to be taking unprecedented steps'
"It is my hope that the SANDF deployment over the period ahead, in areas which will reportedly include Bonteheuwel, Delft, Hanover Park and Philippi East, will see a major reduction in these numbers. The current situation is unprecedented, and we need to be taking unprecedented steps to ensure that people are safe."
He said he was relieved by Cele's "about-turn".
Winde said he had written to Cele and top police management this week to urge them to use all the tools at their disposal to drive out criminals.
These included a section in the SAPS Act which allows police to cordon off specific areas and conduct search and seizure operations for 24 hours in order to restore public order.
"The clause allows for either the national or the provincial commissioner to authorise in writing that people, property and vehicles [can] be searched without a warrant for a period not exceeding 24 hours," said Winde.
"This is a further tool that could be used over the period ahead to root out gangs, guns and drugs, and would be particularly effective if the army was in place."