And as police scoured the hostel for contraband and weapons, it was the South African National Defense Force keeping an their eyes open for anything which might be thrown out of a window from the four storey high building.
Promised by the Minister of Military Veterans and Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to be on the ground at 6pm in hotspots where xenophobia had flared up again, the army finally made its presence known shortly before midnight on Tuesday.
“We view the presence of the army as a force multiplier,” said national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega in Jeppestown. Speaking from among the shattered glass and rubble where public violence aimed at foreign nationals had driven people away, Phiyega said the SANDF’s presence allowed the police to dedicate large numbers of personnel to search the hostel. And numbers there were, with approximately 200 police and SANDF members thronging in and about the hostel.
“Anyone who doesn’t see force in the combination of police and defence must be blind, so we are truly grateful for the support given to us,” Phiyega said.
It may have been a little frustrating at the end of the operation to only bag 11 suspects for possession of dagga and suspected stolen property, as reported by national police spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale, but if making a show of force was the point, then as General Phiyega said, one would have to be blind not to see it.
Still, it didn’t stop hostel dwellers jeering when the combined forces of the army and police withdrew to Jeppe police station to strategise further, and although one media crew reported a few stones being thrown, there were no injuries or damages reported.
Afterwards, Makgale told The Citizen the work police had been doing since the latest outbreak was there for all to see.
“We have been at work, supported by the community, municipalities and provincial governments and managed to arrest more than 300 people in KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng and the North West province,” Makgale said.
“In view of the escalating violence, we activated the Natjoints to coordinate our response. We have been working flat out and we reached a stage where, after assessment, we thought that it would be prudent for us to request reinforcements from the SANDF to assist us with specific aspects of our operations.”
He noted the momentum of the violence had now shifted in favour of the policy and it was now or never to capitalise on it. “We cannot defer it. The situation is certainly much better than a couple of days ago but we need the army to augment the police deployment and to ensure that our officials can perform their functions in a secure environment.”
Makgale said it was not unusual for the police and SANDF to work together and recalled the 2008 xenophobia attacks, which saw more than 50 people killed.
After the strategy session at the police station, it was decided the army would withdraw while police broke up into smaller groups to continue stop and search patrols through the night.
Army mum on further deployment
The SA Defence Force on Wednesday would not say where else in the country the army would be deployed following the arrival of soldiers in Johannesburg.