Border security is increasingly important in light of the coronavirus pandemic, literally becoming a matter of life and death, outgoing Secretary for Defence Dr Sam Gulube said during the 2020 edition of the Sovereign Security conference.
“The subject of sovereign security has seldom been more relevant as the coronavirus pandemic radically changes the world we live in and makes matters of border security and homeland security ones of life and death,” he told delegates during the remote conference on 6 August.
“Border security…has always been a contentious topic in South Africa as our borders are a source of entry for undocumented persons, drugs, counterfeit goods and other contraband. With the spread of the coronavirus, we can ill afford to let people cross our borders illegally, especially if they are infected or become the source of transmission of infection not only into South Africa but also out. We can expect to see more people lawlessly moving across Africa as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic grows, and this will see an influx into South Africa as it is one of the hubs of economic development in the region. Strong borders are also needed for economic security, to prevent untaxed, illegal or contraband goods from coming and going and hurting our economy.
“Since our lockdown started in March this year we have seen a major increase in the smuggling of cigarettes, which is not only against state of national disaster regulations but is also putting money into the hands of criminal networks as well as terrorist networks operating in our region.
“We need about 22 companies [of soldiers on the borders] but due to budget constraints our borders are protected by 15 companies of soldiers but our air borders are actually exposed and more needs to be done to strengthen the security of our air, land and sea and other territorial integrity areas. Improving sea borders is also imperative in contributing to the blue oceans economy which is a major component of Operation Phakisa,” Gulube said.
He added that technology can function as a force multiplier for troops on the ground “and as it is, we are looking at ways to acquire equipment in the South African National Defence Force such as radars, drones and surveillance cameras.
“The rollout of the Border Management Authority will also help strengthen South Africa’s ports of entry and ensure South Africa’s people are and feel safe. I should add, ladies and gentlemen, that the South African National Defence Force has drafted and completed a Border Safeguarding and Sensor Strategies document which when implanted and if appropriately funded will go a long way in mitigating thee the porousness of tour borderlines,” Gulube said.
Werner Muller, Chief Executive: Spectrum Monitoring and Security at Hensoldt South Africa, said South Africa has an extremely long land and sea border and it is an immense challenge to secure it. He said detection and reaction capabilities are necessary to secure the border and suggested a range of hardware for the task. This includes unmanned aerial vehicles, radars and cameras (with numberplate recognition technology to detect stolen cars). This would allow for coverage up to 100 km from the border, giving authorities on the border time to react to incidents. All sensors would be connected to a command centre, giving clear map centric view.
In addition to cameras, radars and other sensors, Hensoldt could supply cellphone interception and communications tracking systems to further strengthen border protection capabilities. The company’s technologies have been successfully used, for example, in preventing wildlife poaching, but can easily be used for combating maritime insecurity, smuggling, human trafficking and illegal migration, amongst others.
Lieutenant General Jeremia Nyembe, Chief Defence Intelligence, said the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the SANDF’s ability to protect and secure South Africa’s borders. Responding to the pandemic is placing severe strains on government departments the world over but border security is essential as it is necessary for preventing the spread of the virus.
He said the drive for softer borders and freedom of movement must contend with the need for tighter borders amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the SANDF playing a critical role in securing South Africa’s borders even under the strain of a limited budget.
Good news for border security came in July this year when President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Border Management Authority into law. This will replace different agencies and organs of government all playing different roles in managing aspects of border control, ensuring effective and efficient border law enforcement functions at ports of entry and borders.
Elroy Africa, head of the Border Management Authority (BMA) Project Office within the Department of Home Affairs, told the Sovereign Security conference that the SANDF will keep its exclusive mandate regarding border protection and will cooperate with and complement the BMA.