South African soldiers, mostly infantry but also drawn from other formations including armour, continue patrols and observation along the country’s 4 862 km of land borders deterring, preventing and stopping cross-border criminality and apprehending those involved in criminal activities, is how the Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) summarises Operation Corona.
The tasking to maintain South Africa’s territorial integrity “in accordance with the Constitution and international law regulating the use of force” has been in military hands for more than 10 years. As with other areas of operation in the SANDF, the tasking is hamstrung by funding constraints. This effectively put paid to planning to gradually increase the number of soldiers on border protection to 22 companies. It has stagnated at 15 companies for at least the past five years and, apart from the publicly announced addition of soft-skinned patrol vehicles, is largely dependent on eyes and ears of soldiers and informants in border communities.
These shortcomings do not deter those deployed, with successful interceptions and apprehensions and confiscations being regular occurrences.
As an example, last month (August) soldiers prevented 477 undocumented persons, also known as illegal immigrants, from entering South Africa. According to the DCC, 216 were attempting to cross from Mozambique.
The same section of land border saw soldiers confiscate narcotics worth more than R18 million and R97 900 worth of other contraband.
The South Africa/Zimbabwe border in Limpopo is another where illegals regularly attempt crossings with 56 apprehended and handed to police and Department of Home Affairs officials in August.
Contraband valued at over R3 million was confiscated and five stolen vehicles recovered before they could be “exported” to South Africa’s northern neighbour.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the national borders with Eswatini and Mozambique were again fertile grounds for smugglers. Soldiers prevented just on a million Rand worth of narcotics from reaching underground South African markets as well as confiscating R6 180 worth of contraband, recovering 12 stolen vehicles collectively worth in excess of R4 million and ensured 12 wanted criminals did not find sanctuary in the neighbouring countries.
Patrols along Lesotho’s borders with Eastern Cape and Free State yielded narcotics (R299 040), 38 head of livestock (R424 000), five stolen vehicles (R1.3 million) and 56 illegal immigrants.
Operation Corona patrols continue to bear fruit with the SANDF on Friday announcing a 1 Special Services Battalion (SSB) patrol confiscated more than R500 000 worth of illicit cigarettes on the South Africa/Zimbabwe border. The armour soldiers were on roadblock duty when a Nissan bakkie arrived. On approaching the vehicle the occupants fled. Soldiers investigated the loadbay and found it full of illicit cigarettes valued at R531 213. Vehicle and load were handed to the SA Police Service (SAPS) and customs division of SA Revenue Service (SARS).