Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, trotted out the by-now hackneyed excuse of “budgetary constraints” when answering a Parliamentary question about the lack of boots on the ground ensuring South Africa’s land borders are adequately protected.
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow state security minister Mimmy Gondwe put it to the minister the current deployment of 15 sub-units (generally infantry companies) is “insufficient”. This led her to ask if additional manpower would be assigned to the borders “as a counter measure to the potential movement of terrorist elements”, presumably in reference to ongoing violence attributed to Islamic State (IS) in the northern Mozambican province, Cabo Delgado.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s reply indicated “the appreciated force level requirement for border line control is 22 sub-units instead of 15. Due to budgetary constraints it has been difficult to deploy additional sub-units”.
The Minister did not totally close the door on more soldiers being utilised for the border protection tasking Operation Corona.
“Should funds be made available the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) may prepare and deploy additional sub-units for the total border safeguarding effort and not only to counter potential terrorist movement in the region.”
In July, President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament via a letter the number of military personnel “employed” as part of the national state of disaster called to curb the spread of coronavirus would be reduced to 20 000. Some would be part of Operation Notlela in support of police while others would “support State departments and control our borders”.
The only indication of extra manpower on “border duty” came from a Limpopo executive committee member early last month. Phophi Ramathuba, the senior provincial health executive, told a news wire service 38 soldiers at Lephalale tested positive for coronavirus. Subsequent inquiries by defenceWeb revealed the soldiers were from Cape Town-based 9 SAI and under quarantine at the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) training centre in the Limpopo town.
When asked how many more soldiers were now part of Operation Corona, the Joint Operations Division of the SANDF told defenceWeb the figure would not be made public.