South Africa has just 15 companies of soldiers deployed to safeguard its landward borders, but even the 22 companies that are planned would not be enough to secure the borders, according to Lieutenant General Barney Hlatshwayo, Chief of Joint Operations of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
Speaking at a recent conference in Pretoria, he said that the original plan for the SANDF was to roll out 22 infantry companies on the borders. “Where do we stand? We are at 15 companies. Why? It is a matter of the resources. The plans are still there, they have been approved and ultimately if we are well resourced we will roll out those 22 companies.”
Hlatshwayo pointed out that South Africa has a total land border of 4 471 km, a maritime border of 2 798 km and a total air border of 7 660 km.
“Even 22 companies are not sufficient to protect this vast area. We would have to rely on technology,” he said.
The SANDF is already using some technology to enhance its border control footprint. “In terms of technology we are using the Chaka system which has been developed and rolled out and we have prioritised certain key border areas: the KwaZulu-Natal/Mozambique border as well as the Zimbabwe border as that’s where the biggest problem is. What we have established with the Chaka system enables all our commanders to monitor the patrol and movement of our own troops.
“It is a very successful system that again due to resources we have not been able to roll it out on all countries that border South Africa. We have also identified some of the equipment we use should be rugged. We need systems that are rugged.”
Hlatshwayo said these areas where the SANDF is employed are informed by the type of threat and this includes human trafficking, illegal immigration, theft of vehicles and stock theft. “Another compounding problem is there are a lot of airstrips prevalent within the borders of South Africa. We have engaged with neighbouring countries on this.” South Africa is identifying airstrips near the border and is trying to get its neighbours to do the same.
Regarding South Africa’s air borders, Hlatshwayo said the SANDF remains the only department charged with that responsibility. “The safety of air borders was never an issue to be discussed.” He added that the focus is on the land borders. “I must emphasise we haven’t done much in terms of protecting the sea borders but it is part and parcel of Operation Corona.”
Hlatshwayo said that in spite of a lack of resources, South Africa is a shining example as compared to other countries on the continent in terms of border security. “I don’t think we are about to cease that responsibility. We will continue to do exactly that in line with the constitution.”