By Wendell Roelf
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South African soldiers pulled out of gang-ridden suburbs of Cape Town on Friday after a brief show of force, leaving residents uncertain about what to expect next.
Streets were quiet on Friday morning after a convoy of armored vehicles and hundreds of soldiers deployed the previous day in Manenberg and Hanover Park to help police end a surge of gang violence that has killed hundreds of people.
Police and army spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the operation.
“The army is a good thing for now, but when they are gone the gang fights will start again,” said Nizaam Sharmar, a 32-year-old construction worker.
Cape Town is famous for its tourist attractions, including Table Mountain, but has some of South Africa’s highest murder rates, official data shows.
There is an entrenched gang culture with thousands of young men belonging to street gangs with names like “Hard Living” and “Young Americans”.
Bloodshed over the past seven months in mainly poor black and mixed-race areas has killed more than 2,000 people, almost half gang-related, Western Cape provincial officials said.
The South African National Defense Force said last Friday it would deploy a battalion with support elements to communities in a vast area called the Cape Flats, where high unemployment rates and drug abuse have fueled gang activity in apartheid-era townships and working-class suburbs including Manenberg and Hanover Park.
“Innocent people are being shot and we need drastic change, but it’s just like they showing their faces and then leaving,” said 28-year-old mother of two Ledgeme, who did not want to give her full name for fear of reprisals.
The soldiers were promised following a visit by Police Minister Bheki Cele to the Cape Flats shantytown of Philippi, after almost a dozen people were killed earlier this month.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Angus MacSwan)