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S.Africa extends army’s Cape Town crime crackdown

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday extended by six months the deployment of South African troops on the streets of Cape Town’s townships as part of a campaign against a surge in gang violence and murders.

In July, around 1,300 soldiers from the South African National Defence Force were deployed to back up police in the gang-afflicted Cape Flats areas surrounding the coastal city.

While the government has called the operation a success, some Western Cape provincial officials have questioned the efficiency of deploying the army to fight crime on the streets.

“I can confirm that the president has granted extension of the defence force in the Western Cape in support of the police for the next six months,” Department of Defence spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said.

The mission had authorised the troops to be withdrawn on September 16 after a two-month period of ‘Operation Lockdown’.

The new date of withdrawal has been set for March 31, 2020.

Cape Town, an international tourist destination with stunning coastal scenery, and its surrounding areas, have one of the highest murder rates in the country.

According to the presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko, the decision was based on an assessment by the South African Police Service together with the department of defence on the success of the operation.

The president commended law enforcement for the progress already made “in stamping out criminality and bringing about stability in the affected areas of the province”.

– Success ‘hotly contested’ –

Western Cape provincial government officials, a stronghold of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, welcomed the decision, but called for changes in how the military is deployed to ensure the crackdown was working.

“The success of the deployment remains hotly contested,” said provincial minister for community safety Albert Fritz.

“Whilst the number of murders remains relatively unchanged compared to prior to the deployment, the deployment has been successful in affecting arrests.”

They called for more oversight and more coordination between national and local authorities.

“It could have been much worse had they not been there,” said city Councillor JP Smith. “The way the defence forces accompanied the police was wasteful and not an ideal utilisation of the military as a resource.”

According to South African police data, from April 2018 to March 2019, 21,022 murders were reported in the whole country, an increase of 1.4 percent from the year before.

The military reinforcements were meant to bolster the city’s struggling police forces, patrolling on foot and in vehicles in districts identified as criminal hotspots.

Soldiers have been used in similar missions before but violence had peaked in recent months in the sprawling townships of the Cape Flats area, one of the most violent places in South Africa.