Call for heightened land border protection in the face of COVID-19


South Africa’s ports of entry are covered by Department of Health representatives supported by military medics checking for coronavirus but what about the thousands of kilometres of land border in between, a Freedom Front Plus MP asks.

Philip van Staden said in the wake of South Africa’s first reported coronavirus case there is “a real danger” the virus could spread exponentially given the porosity of South Africa’s land borders.

The task of maintaining territorial integrity and keeping undocumented and illegal people from entering South Africa lies in the hands of 15 companies of mostly infantry soldiers who patrol more than five thousand kilometres of land border. The border protection tasking, Operation Corona, has grown to expand confiscation of contraband goods, mostly narcotics, cigarettes, liquor, clothing and shoes as well as recovery of stolen vehicles, firearms and precious metals such as copper and gold. South Africa has land borders with six countries – Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe – and each is allocated at least a company, some with equestrian and canine support elements.

An indication of the ease with which undocumented people cross into South Africa comes in the figure of over 9 300 intercepted by soldiers and handed to either police or Department of Home Affairs officials in the first 11 months of last year.

Suitably qualified and trained SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) personnel have been deployed at ports of entry since South Africa went onto a high alert for coronavirus but there is no indication of an increase in military medical personnel at Op Corona forward and operational bases.

Van Staden maintains “a lack of adequate control over the influx of people across South Africa’s land borders will see the country follow the example of others which have closed and secured land borders”.

“People from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and eSwatini can freely enter South Africa. We need tighter border control,” he said pointing to continental coronavirus cases reported in Algeria, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt.

“Stricter border control is not a discriminatory measure but the health and safety of South African citizens is paramount,” he said adding “securing airports and harbours are not enough”.