Procurement failures mean force multiplier tech for border security has not been acquired

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Procurement challenges have contributed to the fact that the Department of Defence (DoD) has not spent resources allocated for the procurement of technology that would act as a force multiplier to safeguard South Africa’s borders.

This is according to Lieutenant General Siphiwe Lucky Sangweni, Chief of Joint Operations, who provided the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) on 25 May with an update on the border safeguarding Operation Corona.

Earlier this year, National Treasury announced that R700 million had been allocated for border safeguarding technology in 2024/5 and 2025/26. R500 million of this will be spent on new vehicles; R22.5 million on a Geographic Information System (GIS) capability; R47 million on intelligence collection and processing capabilities; R7.2 million on an upgraded Chaka command and control system; R57 million on Reutech RSR 903 radars; R16 million on 60 observation posts; R16 million on 16 quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles; and R24 million and two long range UAVs.

Sangweni noted that the new technology systems in the form of sensors and radars being acquired for deployment on the borderline this year “have not yet been secured and deployed on the border AOO (area of operations) due to failure in the procurement process”.

Cyril Xaba, the Co-Chairperson of the JSCD, after the meeting said, “The committee has previously welcomed the intention to deploy technological capabilities as force multipliers and has fought for allocations to be made available to that end. The inability to procure negates the good plans and does not aid the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in its operations along the borderlines. It is on this basis that we urge the SANDF to streamline procurement processes and remove any impediments.”

Sangweni in his presentation reminded the committee that technology has been utilised in border safeguarding for a number of years to date, and continues being utilised periodically in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles.

In addition to acquiring new technology, other efforts to improve border security are improving the conditions of operational base facilities, and getting other government departments to improve the condition of borderline infrastructure, particularly fences and patrol roads.

The Department of Defence wants a whole of government approach towards border security, including opening up/establishing patrol roads along the entire stretch of the borderline and installing more Jersey barriers to hinder stolen vehicles from driving across the border. Joint Operations would like to see a “more robust approach” to the borderline wherein the government should own a portion of land stretching along the borderline (servitude, restricted zone) which will be exclusively under control of the security cluster.

Sangweni noted that cooperation between the Department of Defence and newly constituted Border Management Authority (BMA) is underway, “with cordial relations and no challenges thus far.” SANDF members have been instructed to assist BMA border guards secure the border. They are deploying in and around points of entry and at vulnerable community crossing points. Border guards are deployed at Qacha’s Neck in the Eastern Cape; Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg in the Free State; Kosi Bay and Sani Pass in KwaZulu-Natal; Oshoek and Komatipoort in Mpumalanga; and Beitbridge in Limpopo.

Sangweni outlined some of the challenges facing the SANDF in protecting the borders, including lack of mobility and transport capabilities, poor facilities for deployed soldiers, cumbersome and lengthy procurement processes, poor borderline infrastructure, and legislative impediments. He sees it as highly unlikely that more units will be provided in the short term for border deployment – the SANDF would like 22 companies for Operation Corona, but has 15 at present.

Sangweni believes that maritime border security will be improved with the introduction of the three new multi-mission inshore patrol vessels (MMIPVs) being acquired under Project Biro.

In spite of challenges, SANDF soldiers continue to record successes on border patrol duty. Between January and March 2023, for example, the SANDF apprehended 7 946 illegal immigrants, confiscated R1.7 million worth of contraband goods and R7.7 million worth of drugs as well as 13 weapons, recovered 2023 head of livestock, arrested 90 criminals, and recovered 56 stolen vehicles worth R26 million.

“The SANDF elements deployed on the borderline continue working hard, with commitment, dedication and zeal to achieve the set objectives despite the serious capacity challenges the DoD is faced with,” Sangweni told the Joint Standing Committee on Defence.