Pretoria to put troops into 'crime jungle'

Murder capital: War veterans head Johannesburg clean-up
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The Independent Online
Units from the South African Army and Air Force, under the command of two veterans of the war in Angola, and 1,000 extra police have been called into Johannesburg to spearhead an anti-crime drive that will adopt "the principles of warfare".

One of the men leading Operation Anvil will be Colonel Buks Pieterse, formerly second in command of the notorious and now disbanded 32 Battalion, which earned a vicious reputation as part of South Africa's military force in the Angolan civil war. The other, Colonel Theunis du Toit, was head of the South African air operation in Angola.

Bush-warfare methods would be employed against criminals "in the Johannesburg jungle", said Col Pieterse, now a senior staff officer.

Johannesburg has the highest murder rate in the world and it is rising. A Police Service spokeswoman said the level of car hijackings and murders, including the killing of police officers, demanded "drastic measures". The Defence Force and the police have already joined forces to tackle political violence in the run-up to elections in KwaZulu-Natal. The new joint operation is already in evidence in Johannesburg and the surrounding Gauteng province, with a rash of spot roadblocks and searches. Helicopters are being deployed to allow small crack police units to respond quickly to incidents, particularly car hijacks.

The police spokeswoman said joint operations had produced good results in Kwa-Zulu-Natal and it was hoped that could be repeated. "Being much more visible should affect the level of crime."

The announcement of the initiative follows the death this week of Eliakim "Pro" Khumalo, a 1970s soccer star and father of the South African international "Doctor" Khumalo, during a car hijack outside his home in Soweto.

Earlier, a German businessman, Erich Ellmer, was shot dead in his driveway by car hijackers. Such high-profile cases have increased pressure on politicians to curb the crime wave, in which Johannesburg is among the worst-hit areas.

The involvement of the military will please some of the critics who say politicians are doing too little to tackle crime.

For them, the police are part of the problem. The National Police Commissioner, George Fivaz, has admitted that corruption is widespread.

This week a policeman was shot while allegedly robbing a shopping centre and the head of a car-theft unit was held in connection with stolen vehicles. They are the latest in a long list of cases in which those charged with upholding the law have been caught breaking it.

It is widely acknowledged that some officers are in the pay of crime syndicates operating throughout the country.