Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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Borderline control requires at least 20 companies

Properly patrolling South Africa’s land borders will require at least 20 infantry companies.


That’s the view of defence force sources that cannot be named as they may not speak to the media without minders.


Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu last Friday said her department had "agreed … in principle … that the defence of our borders might need to remain in the hands of the defence force.


Cabinet decided in 2005 to return borderline control to the police and the handover was meant to have been completed by March 31 this year.


But the sources say the decision was reversed at literally the last minute at the request of the police.


"These are matters that are under discussion at the moment, against a backdrop of very clear legislative mandates," Sisulu said, adding that returning the military to borderline control would help "ensure that we can release the police to deal with crime in the country."


Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier – also Friday – said the country`s 4862 kilometre land border is currently protected by just 684 police officers, which is "the equivalent of approximately one police officer deployed every seven kilometres…"


"And our 2798 kilometre maritime border is protected by a SAPS [SA police Service] armada comprising of two 20 meter patrol vessels and nine rubber ducks." 


"We have an average of 3024 soldiers deployed per day abroad, but only an average of 575 soldiers deployed per day at home. We appear to be more committed to keeping the peace abroad, than keeping the peace at home. The borders are simply not secure, making us all vulnerable to transnational crime," Maynier continued.


"But perhaps most shockingly, the SAPS plans to spend more in this financial year on ‘VIP Protection Services` (R380 004 000) than it does on ‘Borderline Security` (R224 969 000)," Maynier fumed.  


His police colleague Dianne Kohler Barnard earlier noted that this budget was 3.23% lower than last year and follows an assessment by the Auditor-General that "our land borders are under-capacitated by 71%, our sea borders by 96%, and our air borders have no permanent staff at all."


By contrast, the Chief of the SA National Defense Force, General Godfrey Ngwenya, during a press briefing – again on Friday – noted the SANDF had deployed around 12 companies for the task, or about 1600 soldiers (leaving out support staff).   


SA Infantry Corps establishment tables show that a full infantry company musters five officers and 128 other ranks, mustered into a company headquarters, a support section and three rifle platoons, each of one officer and 40 other ranks. The platoon consists of a headquarters and three rifle sections of 10 soldiers each.


When deployed on borderline control the company headquarters would be reinforced with support personnel that may include medical orderlies, storemen, mechanics, chefs and drivers.              


The SANDF sources say at peak the SA Army deployed 28 companies along the nations` borders.


Borderline protection is a recent SA Army task. The police was responsible for the task up to 1987 but then handed over to the military to concentrate on fighting pro-democracy activists and insurgents in the townships.


It is not yet clear how many troops the SANDF will return to the task. The officers say it will likely be "unnecessary" to patrol the Namibian border as well as the western section of the Botswana frontier.


The eastern part of the latter will require the deployment of two companies as there are "lots of irregularities" along that border.


The Zimbabwe frontier requires three companies, "preferably four" while the Kruger National Park needs two. The nature of the terrain and the prevalence of illegal activities in the Komatipoort area and along the Swazi borderline suggests three companies as far south as opposite Mbabane.


From Pongola to Kosi Bay requires a minimum of two companies. "There used to be a battalion deployed there," one officer said.             


The terrain around Lesotho as well as e volume of cross-border stock-theft requires the deployment of at least two companies on each of its three borders – that with the Free State, the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal.


The officers say about half the border farms on the Free State side have been abandoned by their owners because of trans-frontier crime. On the Eastern Cape side, Frontier War-style cattle raids where one community crosses the border to take cattle and the victims cross to retake the animals – and a few more as "interest" remain common.      


For now, the SANDF is authorised to deploy up to 160 soldiers on the Zimbabwe border until March 31. President Kgalema Motlanthe approved the deployment in one of his last executive acts before handing over to President Jacob Zuma.


"This serves to inform the National Council of Provinces that I have employed the South African National Defence Force personnel for service in co-operation with the South African Police Service in the prevention and combating of crime and maintenance and preservation of law and order within the Republic of South Africa, along the RSA/Zimbabwe international border, to perform borderline control duties," Motlanthe said in a letter to Parliament. He is required, by the Constitution, to inform the legislature of military deployments within a set time.


Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman told Business Day newspaper at the time that the SANDF was already "grossly underfunded and understrength" and did not have the troops to conduct borderline operations.

Pic: A stretch of border fence on the Zimbabwe-SA frontier seen earlier this year.


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