Border protection in South Africa’s central province – Free State – is allocated R88 million a year and 370 soldiers but does not appear to be curbing cross-border crime in any significant way.
This opinion was voiced by Democratic Alliance (DA) National Council of Provinces (NCOP) security and justice spokesman George Michalakis following Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s response to a parliamentary question.
In addition to Free State, landlocked Lesotho has borders with Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, giving it a total of 900km of land border with South Africa.
Commenting on the ministerial response to shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais, Michalakis said agricultural unions are concerned about the devastating effect of cross-border crime, particularly stock theft, along the Lesotho border.
“This is devastating for established and emerging farmers, as well as the economy of eastern Free State and parts of the other two provinces,” he said, pointing out 11 of 17 hotspots for border stock theft are in Free State.
In addition to taking the issue up in the Free State provincial legislature, Michalakis will approach International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor with a view to upping border security. He suggests bilateral agreements for drones and other technology to be deployed in the border protection role.
“There are resources and some are deployed on the Lesotho border. We need to ensure they are put to effective use and not wasted,” he said, adding information at his disposal indicated soldiers exercised their powers of arrest, handing suspects to police for further processing.
“It appears, in many cases, dockets are not opened when police take suspects brought in by soldiers into custody,” Michalakis said.
Mapisa-Nqakula indicated 431 arrests for “criminal activities” along the Free State/ Lesotho border from 2017 to this year (month not specified).
“This does not tally with either SA Police Service statistics at the 13 police stations along the Free State border or the large numbers of stock theft farmers are on the receiving end of,” he said.
According to African Defence Review director Darren Olivier, “there’s more that can, and should, be done to secure our borders, but it’s going to require a commitment to providing extra funding for the SANDF (SA National Defence Force). This is because the only way to cover more border all the time is to have more personnel and surveillance sensors.
“We have 15 mainly infantry companies deployed to our borders. That’s about 2 400 soldiers to patrol over 5 200 km, far from sufficient. The SANDF requested funding to deploy at least 22 companies, to take that number over 3 500, but there’s no public appetite for it.
“To secure the borders to the level politicians and the public are demanding would take far more: At least another 10 000 soldiers. That would cost over R3 billion a year extra in salaries, plus at least R3 billion for equipment and deployment costs.”