Cape Town, widely known as a tourist destination for its historical sites and natural beauty, has become one of the world’s most dangerous cities.
The police recorded more than 2,800 murders in 2018, and its homicide rate, about 66 killings per 100,000 people, is surpassed by only the most violent cities in Latin America.
The violence largely stems from escalating turf battles between gangs that traffic in drugs, weapons and illicit goods
President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the military intervention on July 12, despite expert’s warnings that soldiers can do little about the underlying issues, like worsening corruption and rising unemployment, that have allowed gangs to reign over the townships for decades.
The first weekend of military patrols saw murders drop on the Cape Flats, according to the provincial health authorities.
But a few weeks into the deployment, the bloodshed had not paused in some places. In the area of Mitchells Plain, an expanse fringing the city where black and mixed-race people were forcibly moved from central parts of the city during apartheid, less than 48 hours after a military patrol withdrew back to its base, a man named Ashley Cupido was killed.
Mr. Cupido lived in an area controlled by the Hard Livings gang. His girlfriend and 5-year-old son lived on the turf of a rival gang the Americans. He was shot walking between the two homes, his mother said.
This year, intensifying gang rivalries have driven the violence to crisis levels, the police precinct with the highest number of killings in South Africa last year, Nyanga, also in the Cape Flats, had 308 murders, Mitchells Plain had 140 murders, while central Cape Town, home to upmarket restaurants, galleries and hotels, had just eight.
Officials like Mr. Smith say that the military deployment, called Operation Prosper, will help stabilize Cape Town’s 10 most dangerous neighborhoods and allow important social programs to resume working, schools and ambulances, for example, cannot operate in many areas. But critics warn that bringing in the army may only dampen the violence.
. The murder rate was “about twice as bad as what we’ve seen before,” said Jean-Pierre Smith, the city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security.
Attempts in nations like Brazil and Mexico to subdue gang violence with military forces have had mixed results. In some cases, homicides have increased in the wake of intervention, even when other forms of crime have dropped.
Some of the strongest supporters of Operation Prosper, which is scheduled to end in September, are members of local community policing forums, who say that the government is finally taking their concerns seriously after years of neglect. In Cape Town, the military is under the police’s direction and being deployed on targeted raids.
Gangsterism is less a syndrome of the Cape Flats than its dominant governing force. Early gangs took root amid the turmoil of forced removals from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when tens of thousands of families were evicted from neighborhoods designated for whites. Unemployment has remained high in much of the area; in Mitchells Plain, less than 37 percent of the population has a job.
After apartheid, when South Africa’s international borders opened, many gangs morphed into powerful criminal enterprises.
Also driving the conflict is a ready supply of weapons, many obtained from corrupt officials: in 2016, for example, a veteran police officer in Pretoria was convicted of illegally selling around 2,000 firearms, most of which ended up in Cape Flats. A study in the South African Medical Journal found a “strong association” over that period between the availability of firearms and the murder rate.