Return of Casspir, the ghost of apartheid past
eThekwini metro cops have revived the apartheid symbol to help quell ongoing protests
In the dark days of apartheid, the Casspir was regarded as the ultimate weapon of death and despair. On Wednesday, its arrival, albeit slightly modified, was heralded with cheers and selfies at a city reception to welcome the arrival of three of the four controversial Casspirs bought by the municipality to boost to its arsenal.
The purchase caused an outcry because the vehicles were commissioned without a formal tender, and at a cost of R20m. Nevertheless, they arrived in Durban on Wednesday.
The Casspirs – the first such vehicles to be used by metro police in the country – were built by arms manufacturer Denel Land Systems.
eThekwini deputy mayor Fawzia Peer said: “I think the situation these days is so volatile and we have so much of land invasions and so many protests. These Casspirs will be there to safeguard our staff that are hit by stones and bricks. And the community must not at any time think these Casspirs are brought to attack them. It’s to safeguard both sides,” she said.
Peer said the timing of the delivery of the armoured vehicles had nothing to do with the forthcoming elections, because the city anticipated peaceful polls.
“I must say I don’t think it has anything to do with any volatility during election time. It’s free elections. We’re getting the protests all the time,” she said.
She said the vehicles will also come in handy when dealing with protests by the controversial Durban business organisation‚ Delangokubona Business Forum, which has been accused of using Mafia-style tactics and has targeted a number of multimillion-rand projects in the city, demanding a stake.
“These Casspirs will be helping the metro police because they were attacked previously in the line of duty when they used soft vehicles. These are hard-skin vehicles and the metro police will be protected in these vehicles to deal with all sorts of protests and everything that is happening around them.
“And we have noted there has been an escalation of protests and the timing is also correct for the delivery of these vehicles because the elections are coming. They are made to quality specifications that we wanted. It can also remove obstacles because it has a scoop in front,” he said.
Metro spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parbhoo Sewpersad said the long-awaited vehicles were vital to help the police keep the public safe.
Drivers would be trained in using the Casspirs since they were specialist vehicles that could not be driven by anyone.
Nitesh Arjoon, the products and equipment life cycle manager at Denel in Pretoria, said the Casspirs had been around for more than 50 years and the arms manufacturer had been supplying them to the UN for peacekeeping missions in Africa.
“We re-enhanced them and made them more robust vehicles. These took us around seven to nine months because we had to spec them for the police as it’s not for military,” he said.
Arjoom said the acquisition of the vehicles by the Durban metro police was a breakthrough for Denel because it was the first time the company had supplied them locally.
“It’s the first time that metro has bought into this. That’s the breakthrough for us that Denel is supplying locally and it’s going to be used locally. I know everyone associates it with apartheid vehicles, but it’s been used for UN peacekeeping a lot," he said.
There was a huge from outcry from opposition parties about the procurement of the Casspirs two years ago, with the IFP describing it as a “waste of ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money”, and the DA saying it was extremely concerned about “the supposed reasons for a fleet of armoured vehicles better suited for wartime operations”.
At the time, DA eThekwini exco member Heinz de Boer said the vehicles were virtually useless as crowd-suppression tools and were specifically designed as troop-carrying military vehicles from which automatic rounds can be fired.
But the municipality defended its decision, saying the Casspirs would be used for “safeguarding the metro police, security or council members when deploying to volatile situations”. They would also be used in “static situations where the possibility exists for volatility”.