In what one called “an eye opener” a contingent of Parliamentarians saw for themselves what is – and isn’t – happening on South Africa’s land borders.
In addition to whirlwind stops at three border sites the contingent, comprising representatives from both the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) and the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV), “called” on three other SA National Defence Force (SANDF) installations. They were AFB Waterkloof in Centurion, 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane and 4 Vehicle Reserve Park at Wallmannsthal, north of Pretoria.
The national border protection tasking Operation Corona saw the parliamentarians briefly at the Beit Bridge, Komatipoort and Kosi Bay deployment areas. First feedback on this part of the year-end oversight tour comes from Kobus Marais, the Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian charged with keeping a weather eye on Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s actions.
He told defenceWeb after seeing troops in parts of the mission area that is South Africa’s border with Botswana (1 840km) and Zimbabwe (225km), the four companies currently deployed there are “totally inadequate”.
“The lack of force multipliers such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), radar and aerial reconnaissance by SA Air Force (SAAF) assets should be addressed – urgently – if any headway is to be made against illegal immigrants and smugglers,” Marais said.
In response to a question on the utilisation of mobility packages – slightly modified Toyota Land Cruisers which replaced Nissan 4×4 one-tonners just over three years ago – he was told of the 95 units deployed to the Botswana/Zimbabwe border “about 30” are no longer in service. No explanation on whether they crashed to the extent of having to be written off or a lack of spares was given.
His observations of the mobility packages at work include that northern KwaZulu-Natal is “good territory for them with lots of sandy terrain, but they’re not adequate on the eSwatini and Mozambique borders”.
“Tyres, clutch, body wear and tear and so on is huge and make many unserviceable. Long waiting periods for repairs is a huge problem,” Marais said adding the vehicles were not “all that practical”.
“With four soldiers facing each other on the load-bay it will be a major problem if the vehicles are attacked. There are also practical problems taking as an example, for right handed soldiers to aim and fire in a confined space increases the risk to them. Also a large calibre weapon or RPG will have devastating effects on the soft body of the Land Cruiser.
“There are similar challenges on the Zimbabwe border where lethal threats are on the rise. Organised crime syndicates seem to be well equipped with weapons and intelligence,” he said.
Marais and the rest of the Parliamentary party were informed the mobility packages were acquired as an SA Army acquisition not involving defence and security acquisition agency Armscor as “an interim measure”. This, he told defenceWeb, was to allow for time and proper planning to acquire armoured personnel carriers (APCs) suitable for deployment on the rugged and inhospitable terrain making up much of South Africa’s land border with eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia as well as Botswana and Zimbabwe – 2 798 km in total.
As part of Operation Corona, 15 companies patrol South Africa’s land borders with Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They record numerous successes against criminals, smugglers and illegal immigrants. As an example at the weekend soldiers confiscated a Silver Volvo XC90 valued at R500 000 as well as illicit cigarettes (42 master boxes, 17 cartons and eight packets of Remington Gold) at Sandquest farm, east of Beitbridge.
At Sand River in the Kruger National Park soldiers apprehended 202 illegal immigrants/undocumented persons (UDPs).
During night operations in Limpopo soldiers, police and traffic officers operating jointly issued traffic fines valued at R1 700; apprehended 32 undocumented persons and confiscated 29 cartons and seven packets of Remington Gold valued at R7 655.