Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille has been “roasted” by a senior Democratic Alliance (DA) MP for approving 20 km of new fencing either side of the Beit Bridge port of entry and indications are the work will be subject to the scrutiny of the Auditor-General.
Samantha Graham-Mare, the party’s shadow deputy minister of public works and infrastructure, said the R37 million – “almost a million per kilometre” – cost to erect the fence meant to halt illegal border crossings meant there was now “a washing line” between South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Beit Bridge port of entry is the only legal access point between the countries.
Looking back, she said the border fence was once called the “snake of fire because of the 2 800 volts coursing through those unfortunate enough to come into contact with it”.
“A lack of maintenance and lacklustre monitoring of the border by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) over the years saw it become as porous as a sieve. This occurred, despite a 3 m high double fence either side of the electric fence that marked the border.
“The advent of COVID-19 was supposed to address and change all that. The announcement by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure Minister that repairs totalling R37 million would be effected to 40 km of border fence, should have signalled a new era in tackling the almost non-existent border. It would have ensured kilometres of fencing stolen for animal kraals in the Beit Bridge border area would be replaced and restored.
“According to the Minister, all emergency procurement protocols were adhered to. A contractor was duly appointed to do a fast track job to secure the country against movement of undocumented illegals with the potential to infect South Africans.
“Regrettably, within days, pictures emerged of gaping holes in the new fence. Reports of stolen fence posts followed. The Minister responded that there would be increased security to ensure no more breaches,”
Graham-Mare asked what type of border fence was procured that required its own security.
“What quality of material was used that can barely withstand a wire cutter and who drafted the fence specifications,” she asked pointing out a game fence on a wildlife farm is between 1.8 and 2.4m high. A border fence, such as the one erected on the Morocco-Spain border, is six metres high.
“The Beit Bridge fence, costing R37 million, should be impenetrable and built to last. It clearly is not.”
She notes Minister de Lille backtracked on earlier assertions the contractor was appointed in accordance with National State of Disaster guidelines.
“Additionally, the department admitted to deviating from procurement processes by appointing the contractor through a nomination process. After stoically defending the appointment, the Minister has now requested an audit into the project by the Auditor-General. We hope the audit will also reveal the basis on which the appointed contractor was selected ahead of other better known companies,” Graham-Mare’s statement said.