Defence Force Service Commission makes Op Corona recommendations after critical findings


South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers deployed on the borders under Operation Corona have no authority to intercept vehicles, have poor communications equipment, lack night vision equipment and their bullet-resistant equipment is old and unserviceable, the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) has found.

Last week, SANDF human resources chief Vice Admiral Asiel Kubu presented these and other findings to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence, and made recommendations to address these shortcomings.

Amongst the Operation Corona findings, the DFSC said that deployed soldiers do not have any authority to intercept vehicles; Information Technology (IT) in the mission areas is outdated, old, often unserviceable or unavailable; the Computer Aided Logistics Management Information System (CALMIS) in the border areas is compatible with the main systems; and the porous and broken border fencing since 2013 has not been attended to or repaired.

The DFSC also found that soldiers on the border may not carry out an arrest without a police officer present, and that there is poor co-operation between the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the SANDF, impeding effective border control. There is also “ill treatment of soldiers by members of other law enforcement agencies such as SAPS and Tshwane Metropolitan Police Department.”

Military communications equipment in the mission areas is often not fit for purpose, is unserviceable or not fit for the operational terrain, with deployed soldiers often using their private cell phones for official purposes.

Soldiers in the mission areas do not have the night vision and thermal imaging equipment needed to do their work, and the bullet-resistant equipment issued is old, worn and unserviceable.

The DFSC said of “great concern” is the extreme age of military vehicles deployed in Operation Corona areas along with the unserviceability of the tyres on the vehicles presently used by these vehicles, and the lack of equipped and serviceable ambulances used in Operation Corona.

Another issue is that selection criteria for internal and external deployments is unclear or applied with bias as the same members get deployed constantly.

The DFSC recommended that the SANDF and SAPS should engage in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen operational commitments aiming to improve and strengthen the collaboration between these two state security clusters during border control operations.

With regard to enhancing working relations between the SANDF and other law enforcement agencies, the former Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke, had a meeting with the SAPS to update the MOU, which is currently in draft format.

To address the issue of the porous border fence and poor IT infrastructure, the DFSC recommended that the service level agreement between the Department of Defence, State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the Department of Public Works (DPW) be reviewed and monitored to effectively support Operation Corona, with SITA to upgrade and maintain IT hardware and software within internal mission areas. The DPW would prioritise the maintenance, repairs and refurbishments of accommodation and other facilities within Operation Corona.

CALMIS should be completely upgraded and made compatible with periphery requirements in the operational areas, the DFSC said.

The government-initiated overhaul of the IT Infrastructure of all Government Departments (IFMS) will contribute towards the improvement of current IT hardware and software within the department as well as internal mission areas.

During a visit to Operation Corona bases, the DFSC found worn out and old tents, unserviceable vehicles and a lack of a Defence Intelligence Control Centre at Joint Tactical Headquarters EC. It recommended a complete review of the accommodation of the deployed members at the border areas to be undertaken and new equipment be supplied.

The DFSC called for Defence Intelligence to improve bilateral relations and intelligence at the borders, between the SANDF, State Security Agency, Department of Home Affairs and SAPS to ensure effective border security.