UAVs give police an edge in border livestock theft ops

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Landlocked Lesotho provides South African defence and law enforcement agencies tasked with border protection ongoing problems of which livestock theft is one.

This was confirmed in response to a question asked of Police Minister Bheki Cele by a National Council of Provinces (NCOP) representative. The ministerial reply also illustrated the extent of co-operation between the SA Police Service (SAPS) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

In his written reply to North West Freedom Front Plus (FF+) representative Stephan du Toit, Cele agreed with the “stock theft hotspot” label currently given to the border between South Africa and the mountainous Lesotho kingdom.

The Ministerial response reads, in part, “the Ficksburg policing precinct was identified as a hotspot police station in terms of stock theft and measures have been put in place to address this matter”.

Du Toit also asked Cele if drone technology was in use to assist police in identifying and apprehending suspects.

He was informed SAPS has “undertaken initial engagements” with the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) to confirm “the regulatory process” for law enforcement to use drones, or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in SACAA terminology.

“Police are” according to Cele,” co-operating with the private sector in effectively using drone technology, on a regular basis, in operations along the Free State/Lesotho border. The joint initiative has been successful in recovering stolen stock and effecting arrests in mountainous areas”.

To support his assertion, Cele said 18 arrests were made in connection with reported cases of livestock theft between December and February with 28 cattle and 12 sheep recovered. Other “successes” noted by the Police Minister include “failure to mark an animal in the prescribed manner” (14), failure by “an animal owner to mark an animal as prescribed” (22) and marking an animal “with an identification mark which is not an identification mark” (nine).

In a ministerial admission, Cele told Du Toit “intelligence driven operations are planned and executed in conjunction with the SANDF along the Lesotho border”.

The border protection tasking was returned to the SANDF 11 years ago by a Cabinet decision after it was previously done by police. The tasking, codenamed Operation Corona, currently has 15 mostly infantry companies deployed along South Africa’s landward borders. The soldiers are drawn from both the Regular and Reserve forces and have also seen anti-aircraft gunners and tank crews called on to patrol land borders.



Lesotho borders three South African provinces – Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. A presentation to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) in June last year indicated soldiers were deployed at Fouriesburg and Ladybrand in the country’s central province with a third detachment at the Maluti base in KwaZulu-Natal.