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Protecting SA's borders at all costs

Mobility packages on the Swazi border.Proudly donned in an army green uniform, with her sparkly manicured red nails and matte mauve lipstick, Lieutenant Colonel Portia Shingange’s eyes welled up as she spoke about her role in protecting South Africa’s borderlines.

Colonel Shingange, who is responsible for the 388 strong battalion in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal, is one of the over 2700 soldiers deployed as part of Operation Corona, which sees soldiers patrolling and protecting South Africa’s 4471km landward borders.

In terms of the air border, South Africa spreads out to 7660km and is one of the longest continuous coastlines in Africa, stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean - all of which have to be under constant watch.

South Africa’s land borders overlap with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho -- much of this covers mountainous and bushy stretches of terrain which are difficult to comprehensively monitor, especially with the hundreds of legal crossings.

The South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) role which it re-assumed in 2009 - sees deployment and operations in these border areas to combat risks such as cross-border crime, illegal immigration, movement of stolen goods, ordinary smuggling, drug smuggling, rustling, poaching and the movement of terrorists, explosives and weapons.

Although the task at hand is hard and not without its own challenges – Colonel Shingange is up to the task.

“I was raised in the army - having joined the force in 1998 as a recruit. I have gone through ranks and training that has prepared me for this task. With my strong character I can handle any situation,” said the 39-year-old.

Her battalion, which patrols border lines with access to countries such as Swaziland, Mozambique, and part of Lesotho, sees them arresting, detaining, searching and seizing goods, handing over suspects and seizing items to the police.

“It’s not an easy job but due to the difficult factors such as poor roads and weather conditions like these which are hot and humid, we think out of the box and protect our country at all costs.”

New mobility packages

SAnews spent a day with Colonel Shingange and her team at the Omvervat port of entry from Swaziland as SANDF handed over ten new mobility packages to help with the patrolling at the border post.

Project Officer for mobility packages, Lieutenant Colonel Deric Moore, said KZN will receive a total of 120 of these mobility packages.

The mobility packages include:

logistical module to enable the teams to deliver support as it can carry up to 30 persons;
the command and control module which will enable soldiers to conduct mobile tactical command and control on the ground; and
a troop pack module to help with daily patrolling as well as a field ambulance in cases of medical emergencies.
Detailing the specs of the custom-made Toyota Land Cruiser, Moore said they wanted to provide the soldiers with manoeuvrability and agility to effectively cope with the different and difficult terrains.

“It was from this perspective that the requirement for the development of a mobility package that would deliver support during high mobility operations.”

New vehicles lighter, faster

Colonel Shingange, who test drove the vehicles, said the new vehicles are lighter, faster and would enable them to carry their mandate.

“They will give us an added advantage and they will make our work very easy as we will cover a greater distance during our patrolling. Before I could not dominate my borderline without adequate mobility but with these new vehicles, our lives will change. We will be able to protect the country. This will have a significant deterrent to illegal activities.”

Although the Omvervat border post is not riddled with holes or missing sections as a result of forced entry by illegal immigrants as with other borderlines - they also have their own challenges like stock theft.

Joint provincial commanding officer Colonel Lucky Sangweni told SAnews that although they are seeing inroads with their operations, over the past months they still had the common contraband of dagga and small livestock, while they registered their first seizure of gold in the June/July reporting period.

“We have very high numbers of crossings of undocumented persons, high levels of illegal goods and contraband coming into the country, as well as precious stones and stealing of vehicles which are currently our major problem as a province. But we are making inroads - the visibility of our members helps deter some of the illegal activities.”

Colonel Sangweni welcomed the vehicles, saying they will help protect the economy and sovereignty of South Africa.

Chief of Joint Operations at SANDF, Lieutenant Barney Hlatshwayo, said boosting the soldiers with mobility is part of the overall government response to protect the country’s borders which have in recent months caught the attention of President Jacob Zuma.

Plans in place to improve borderlines

Some of the plans in place to improve borderlines, according to Hlatshwayo, is that the troops are now rotated to prevent them from forming relationships with illegal foreign nationals or criminals.

He said they are also looking into the possibility of reintroducing the use of horses, dogs, motorcycles and using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones, within the confines of the law as part of measures to keep their borders under surveillance.

The rollout of the new vehicles will spread to KwaZulu-Natal/Mozambique border, the Mpumalanga/Mozambican border and then the Limpopo/Zimbabwean border.