Parliamentarians with first-hand knowledge of at least some aspects of the national border protection tasking want more resources, both in terms of equipment and manpower, allocated to Operation Corona.
This recommendation forms part of a report tabled this week at a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD). Some JSCD members were part of a defence-oriented Parliamentary delegation that undertook an extensive oversight visit to SA National Defence Force (SANDF) bases and facilities late last year. Members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) were also part of the delegation.
After briefings and hands-on calls at bases and regional headquarters in the Operation Corona structure at Musina, the Beit Bridge operations area, Komatipoort/Lebombo, Macadamia and Kosi Bay, the delegation’s report is adamant an increase in funding is needed.
Whether it is the land border separating South Africa from eSwatini, Mozambique or Zimbabwe, the soldiers deployed need more of their own alongside them in addition to high-tech equipment and air support.
There are currently 15 sub-units (companies in military parlance) tasked with land border protection. In addition to the three countries named above, soldiers also patrol the Botswana and Lesotho land borders. Planning was for 22 companies to be deployed on Operation Corona by now, the 12th year since the national defence force was instructed by Cabinet to take back the border protection tasking from the SA Police Service (SAPS).
Enquiring about force multipliers, Parliamentarians were told UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) were allocated apparently for aerial reconnaissance for short times. No further details of where and utilisation were given. This is in line with a reply to Parliamentary question last year by Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. She would not divulge details of UAV deployments for Operation Corona claiming it could be a security risk.
Delegation members also commented on the erection of the Jersey concrete barriers to prevent stolen vehicles leaving the country; the generally poor state of facilities where soldiers are based, the almost non-existent air support for both reconnaissance and pursuit; dilapidated and in certain areas, non-existent border fencing as well as the length of time taken for requested items, essential for patrolling, to reach the border bases.