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ISS: Saps coping with xenophobia, army is just a political message

The ISS says the decision to send in the army should not be seen as an indictment of the police.

Police try to restore order in the Johannesburg CBD during a flare-up of xenophobic violence on 17 April 2015. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

CAPE TOWN - The decision to send in the army to help police contain xenophobic violence has raised questions about whether the South African Police Service (Saps) can cope.

Troops were last sent in to help police to deal with attacks on immigrants in 2008.

But that decision came only after officers had battled for days to stem the violence and asked for assistance.

Policing expert Gareth Newham says the decision to send in the army should not be seen as an indictment of the police.

"The last time the military was deployed, it was after the violence had spread continuously over three days to a point."

Now, he says, it's different, "The Saps is saying they aren't in control but the faculties are saying the opposite, that they are in control of the situation."

He says it's more likely the government is looking to send a strong political message, especially to other African countries that it's sparing no effort to deal with the situation that it's taking extremely seriously.

At least seven people have died in xenophobic violence which started in KwaZulu-Natal and spread to Gauteng.

An overnight raid at a Jeppestown hostel in Johannesburg is the first of many which will be carried out throughout the provinces.

At the same time, the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape and various civil society groups will march to Parliament on Wednesday as part of a nationwide movement against xenophobia.

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