Call for Defence department to “lead” on border fence initiatives not clear or definitive


Shambolic scenes at at least two of South Africa’s major land ports of entry with deaths reported while waiting to be processed saw renewed calls for speedy implementation of the Border Management Authority (BMA) Act with its planned one-stop border posts.

This is in addition to what News24 Wire, as reported in The Citizen, said would see the Department of Defence (DoD) “lead in future border fence initiatives”. The quote was attributed to Imtiaz Fazel, acting director-general in Minister Patricia De Lille’s Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DWPI). He was speaking during a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) meeting discussing the multi-million Rand spend on a failed fence adjacent to the Beit Bridge port of entry, ostensibly part of government effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“A lot will depend on what ‘being led’ by the DoD means,” is African Defence Review director Darren Olivier’s first reaction. “Does this mean DPWI will continue to control actual implementation, but will play a secondary role when it comes to requirements? If so, how does the funding situation change? As the setter of requirements, does it mean the DoD now also shoulders the cost?” These are questions he sees needing answers especially in view of the funding deficit the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is and will continue to experience.

“Why bother to keep DWPI as implementing and contracting agency,” Oliver asks. “Why not build capacity in the SANDF Works Formation and handle the parts it cannot through existing DoD procurement mechanisms?”

A retired SA Army officer with years of involvement in Operation Corona, the SANDF national border protection tasking it inherited from the SA Police Service (SAPS) 10 years ago, has a further word of caution.

“BMA will be the responsible government entity for managing official ports of entry, such as Beit Bridge, Lebombo, OR Tambo International Airport and the Port of Cape Town, among others. The thousands of kilometres of land border remains the responsibility of the national defence force. As I read it soldiers will continue patrolling these kilometres with no input from the BMA,” he told defenceWeb on condition of anonymity.