Beit Bridge fence “emergency” upgrade comes under Parliamentary scrutiny


Upgrading 40 km of fence either side of the Beit Bridge port of entry has ruffled feathers, with Parliamentary committees now also involved.

The new fencing, erected under the auspices of Minister Patricia de Lille’s Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) at a cost of R39 million, was breached while work on it was still underway. A call by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) appears to have been part of the Minister’s call for an audit of the project by Auditor General Kimi Makwetu.

At the same time DA shadow deputy public works and infrastructure minister Samantha Graham-Mare wants De Lille to brief Parliament on what she calls the “Beit Bridge border fence scandal”.

Further repercussions are expected as Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs and the Select Committee on Security and Justice seek to “engage” the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure and De Lille’s department to “ensure accountability on the emergency fence”.

De Lille initially said the fence was going to be upgraded as part of the national state of disaster declared to combat the spread of coronavirus. She indicated normal tender procedures were not being followed because of disaster regulations. Revelations of the fence being cut allowing easy access, the appointment of a contractor currently working in the area and the contract price appear to be part of the decision to approach Makwetu asking for an audit.

This is confirmed by the last sentence of her letter. It states: “In order to have greater assurance and full oversight, and further to address the public’s concerns, I am hereby respectfully requesting your good office to immediately commence with an external audit of the 40 km Beit Bridge Border Fence Project. I would appreciate it if the external audit could cover all aspects of the project process”.

Her letter to the Auditor General dated 20 April reads, in part: “The Department of Defence and Veterans (sic), whose mandate it is to secure South Africa’s borders, then requested that the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure as a matter of urgency to repair and replace a 40 km section of the Beit Bridge Border Post Fence, which was identified as the hotspot”.

Requests to the Department of Defence (DoD) for clarity as to who in Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s department was contacted and whether approval was given had not been answered at the time of publication by the department’s head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini.

At Parliamentary level, a statement indicates it was not the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs to approve erection of the fence. There is currently no indication when the fence will come under Parliamentary committee scrutiny.