A training facility north of Pretoria where pre-selection, selection and ongoing training for and of South Africa’s elite Special Forces operators takes place is under threat from encroaching civilian populations.
The Special Forces School at Murrayhill was one stop on a recent oversight visit by the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) to Pretoria and surrounds.
What Parliamentarians found there was worrying. Acting PCDMV chair Thabo Mmutle is on record as saying “there must be a clear decision from [the military] Command Council in terms of the lands surrounding the base (sic)”.
His comment was prompted by observations and information from Special Forces School senior personnel regarding locals “encroaching” on the base perimeter, building “houses and other structures close to fences”.
“The School,” according to a Parliamentary Communication Services statement, “highlighted challenges caused by being in close proximity to civilians as theft of electricity cables and destruction of water pipes supplying the school increased”.
The problems at Murrayhill are not the first that SA National Defence Force (SANDF) management is facing from unwanted civilian “advances” on military bases.
6 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion at Makhanda in Eastern Cape, Parliament heard last April, is without a perimeter fence on its eastern boundary thanks to thieves. This, in addition to a burgeoning “informal settlement” – Nkanini – means squatters have almost unfettered access to the base training area, poaching wildlife include springbok, blesbok and kudu. Poachers and others traversing or using the training area illegally to access the base for, among others, scrap metal, are in danger of injury from unexploded ordnance.
One incident was reported when an unidentified man took home what was termed “a bag of scrap” only to have it explode. The contents were apparently unexploded grenades, no type specified.
Another military base with an illegal resident population is Marievale on Gauteng’s Far East Rand. Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) took up cudgels on behalf of the squatters, obtaining court orders preventing soldiers from harassing the residents of “Happiness Village”, the name given to the informal settlements.
Commenting on electricity and water problems at Murrayhill, the PCDMV indicated solar power could assist with power provision while boreholes were suggested as an option to improve water supply.
The School was asked to inform the PCDMV – in writing – stating “exactly the type of support it requires”.