South African soldiers started patrolling crime-hit townships in the port city of Cape Town on Thursday under a government-ordered deployment to counter a surge in gang violence.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops are to remain on the streets of Cape Town and other parts of the Western Cape province for at least three months to boost a struggling local police force.
The move – sanctioned by President Cyril Ramaphosa and in effect until October – was announced last Friday. The number of soldiers deployed was not revealed.
Ramaphosa told legislators the soldiers would support the police “to restore law and maintain order in communities that are being terrorised by gangsterism” and tackle “the most extreme incidents of violent crime”.
High levels of bloodshed this year in mainly poor majority-black and mixed-race areas prompted a provincial official last month to liken the situation in parts of the Western Cape province to a “warzone”, with some 2,000 people killed since January.
Communities in those districts often bear the brunt of violence spread over a vast area called the Cape Flats, where high rates of unemployment and drug abuse have increased gang activity.