Another indication of the low ranking the South African military has on the national agenda comes from the two day debate on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), as far as defenceWeb has been able to ascertain, was mentioned by just one speaker – Democratic Alliance (DA) National Council of Provinces (NCOP) member Jacques Julius.
He is the opposition party’s immigration spokesman and has visited a number of border posts as well as speaking to soldiers deployed on the border protection tasking, Operation Corona.
This was one of the issues he raised responding to SONA saying South Africa’s borders “are so porous you might as well say we do not have borders at all”.
“Among those crossing our borders undetected are drug smugglers, illicit goods, human traffickers; the list goes on.
“Our Home Affairs offices are so poorly equipped officials cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities. They do not even have uniforms or appointment cards. This has apparently been going on for almost eight years.
“Our SA Police Service members at border posts feel their lives are in danger because they have to face syndicates with advanced weapons. I feel sorry for these government servants. Most of them try their best under the worst circumstances.
“The President failed to make mention of the Department of Defence, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the issues plaguing these institutions.
“National defence force members must patrol our borders with few resources and technology. All they ask for are drones, cameras and other surveillance equipment to support them in their efforts to properly secure our borders with limited human capacity.
“Communities next to border posts are living in fear. Syndicates threaten their livelihoods. They fall prey to hijacking syndicates running cross-border operations. This government is well aware of these problems but chooses to do nothing about it,” he told the National Assembly during the debate on the presidential address earlier this week.
The SANDF has on a previous occasion said it would be pure chaos on South Africa’s borders if it was not there to patrol them, and regularly seizes contraband, stolen vehicles and undocumented persons, but cautions that more money is required to ensure totally safe borders.
At present, 15 companies are deployed on South Africa’s borders. By now, 22 companies were meant to be deployed but due to budgetary constraints this is not possible. Late last year Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, SANDF spokesman, said the SANDF does not have enough resources to effectively patrol the border and said more money is needed to deploy more companies – previous plans called for over 20 companies but there is no budget for this. Mgobozi said the government can’t tell soldiers to protect the border but not give them the funding to carry out their mission.
The challenges faced by those tasked with safeguarding South Africa’s borders are exacerbated by the economic decline and political unrest in neighbouring countries and the rest of Africa, the SANDF said. Transnational crimes are focussed on the Swaziland, Mozambique and South African borders. In many instances crime is committed by criminal gangs that originate in Mozambique and Swaziland with the help of local border communities.
In October last year Julius said that government’s failure to “fully capacitate” Operation Corona has “set up the SA National Defence Force for failure in its duty to secure South Africa’s landward borders”. He said that “law abiding citizens and residents cannot feel safe in South Africa because we cannot be confident our law enforcement agencies have a handle on the scale of cross-border crime. We know there are problems with the illicit flow of drugs and other contraband as well as human trafficking. Certain areas have more pronounced problems with cattle raids or hijacking syndicates. But how many more crimes go undetected because of an under-capacitated SANDF Operation Corona and dilapidated physical infrastructure?
“South Africa’s landward border stretches around 4 800 km. We currently have only 15 of the necessary 22 SANDF sub-units (companies) to patrol this border.”