Cross-border attacks a concern in Free State

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A Free State-based safety and risk analyst maintains large sectors of the provincial border with Lesotho and immediate surrounds are “no-go areas” because of violent attacks and other crimes including theft of equipment, infrastructure and stock.

Dr Jane Buys, a safety and risk analyst for Free State Agriculture (FSA), estimates more than 600 rural crime “incidents” happened in the province in June. According to her the majority of these were in border areas and impact the agricultural community more than any other.

Support for her observations comes from Democratic Alliance (DA) Free State provincial leader Roy Jankielsohn. A recent oversight visit to the SA/Lesotho border between Clarens and Fouriesburg, found “a wide open border with no control made worse by an almost non-existent Caledon River”.

Leona Kleynhans, one of Jankielsohn’s colleagues in the Free State provincial legislature, said the SA Army border protection deployment in particularly the country’s central province was “problematic because it is not contributing to stopping or minimising crime in rural areas, especially close to the Lesotho border”.

She gave the example of an 80-year-old woman, abducted from her farm near Zastron, 30 km from the border, in her own vehicle and abandoned in Lesotho. Another example is the death of “prizewinning young beekeeper, Molefe Ralebenya, in the Ficksburg area allegedly the work of cross-border criminals”.

“These are two examples of the vulnerability of rural communities, especially those near the border and point to a lack of effective patrolling by soldiers,” she said, adding questions would be asked of Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

“We want to know if the effectiveness of the military deployment is measured in any way and how it can be improved and strengthened to address cross-border crime,” she said.

Northern Cape capital Kimberley is home to a number of military units including 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment which next month takes on a deployment far from its regular tasking. It will find itself, including elements from five Reserve Force units, doing border protection on the KwaZulu-Natal/Mozambique border for six months.

Preparation for the deployment saw what is termed “pre-deployment training for combat readiness and the necessary military discipline” take place in the Northern Cape capital ahead of movement to KwaZulu-Natal.

Units trained were Galeshewe, Iwombe, Sekhukhune, Autshumato and 44 Madhlakandila anti-aircraft regiments. They will be deployed alongside Regular Force 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment elements.

Border protection deployments are part of the ongoing Operation Corona which sees the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) protect and preserve the territorial integrity of South Africa’s air, land and maritime borders. Infantry units, both full-time and Reserve Force, are generally tasked with land border protection but other formations, including air defence artillery (such as 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment) and armour (1 Tank Regiment) have been used in the border protection role.