Cross-border vehicle theft syndicates a headache for soldiers

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One of the multiple tasks soldiers deployed on border protection have is preventing stolen vehicles leaving the country – a multi-million Rand criminal industry according to the SA Crime Insurance Bureau (SACIB).

The thin line of mostly infantry battalion and Reserve Force soldiers do their best under difficult conditions and with minimal equipment to execute orders. At present there are 15 companies deployed and this is not likely to increase soon due to “budget and finance constraints” as regularly cited by those in charge of the Department of Defence (DoD) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

In addition to the primary border protection tasking of ensuring territorial sovereignty by stopping illegal immigration, soldiers on Operation Corona duty are also expected to stop the flow of smugglers carrying illegal goods including narcotics, stop livestock theft and prevent stolen vehicles exiting South Africa.

An indication of what soldiers are up against regarding stolen vehicles destined for neighbouring countries comes from SACIB chief executive Hugo van Zyl who maintains 30% of the R8.5 billion worth of vehicles stolen in South Africa annually are taken out of the country.

The June Op Corona statistics supplied by the Joint Operations Division of the SANDF show soldiers stopped 19 vehicles before they could be “illegally exported”. Their collective value is R21.6 million – a long way from the over R8 billion quoted by Van Zyl and another indicator of the need for more boots on the ground as well as other resources, with unmanned and manned aircraft near the top of the wish list.

Mozambique was the “destination of choice” for vehicle thieves and smugglers in June, with soldiers stopping 15 vehicles. Eleven were en route to South Africa’s eastern neighbour via Mpumalanga and another four on the KwaZulu-Natal/Mozambique border.

Van Zyl told business leaders that of the R8.5 billion worth of vehicles stolen, R4.9 billion’s worth are taken across the border; R3.1 billion stay in South Africa as cloned vehicles and R514 million end up in local chop shops.

“Cloned vehicle and cross-border syndicates are a growing concern, thanks to our porous borders,” he is on record as saying, pointing to some positives. These are increased involvement from South African police, the SANDF and SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries, vehicle pound clean-ups in Gauteng, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland as well as vehicle testing stations and provincial vehicle crime forums (PVCF).

Op Corona soldiers report better numbers when it comes to illegal immigrants stopped and handed to police and immigration officers.

The most “popular” crossing point for illegal immigrants in June was the Eastern Cape border with Lesotho where 283 of the month’s 494 were stopped by soldiers.

The South Africa/Zimbabwe border was a distant second in the illegal immigrant category with patrols and observation posts netting 92 Zimbabweans sans the necessary documentation.



Livestock rustlers unsuccessfully targeted 214 head of cattle, sheep and goats for Lesotho on the Eastern Cape and Free State borders of the mountain kingdom in June. Joint Operations gives an estimated value in excess of R202 000 for the recovered livestock.