Defence minister Charles Nqakula has reportedly had a Damascene conversion on border policing. As safety and security minister under President Thabo Mbeki he supported the withdrawal of the South African National Defence Force from the country’s borders and their replacement by police.
But sources in the department and SANDF now says he favours the military continuing Operation Intexo, the name assigned to the borderline control undertaking.
Nqakula was moved from policing to defence by President Kgalema Motlanthe in September following the recall of Mbeki and the resignation of then defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota in sympathy.
Lekota has since launched a new political party that has effectively split the ruling African National Congress.
A defence ministry source says Nqakula is reconsidering the role of the military in borderline control. It is not clear if he has discussed the rethink with Motlanthe or his successor as police minister, Nathi Mthethwa.
The SANDF earlier this year said they were rapping up Intexo in March at the end of the current government financial year. A SANDF source says there is no money for borderline operations in next year`s budget, “so if the minister has changed his mind he must act quickly” to secure funding for borderline control in the 2009/10 budget due to be presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in February.
The source says the main failing of the police in border control is their relative lack of logistic support in comparison to the military.
Soldiers on borderline duty currently deploy on two week patrols and replenish after a week. This allows them to reach remote stretches of the Zimbabwe-SA borderline. The police, by contrast, are expected to deploy on eight hour shifts from police stations near the border.
They have no medical, engineering, technical or rescue support in place – as is the case with the military, do not overnight in the field or have catering support. The source says this severely restricts their ability to patrol the borders in a meaningful way.
But the ministerial source says obstacles to the SANDF resuming the task other than the financial include a Constitutional challenge and a Cabinet decision.
A reading of the Constitution puts borderline control in the remit of the police, not the military, an interpretation confirmed by Cabinet.
Defence department Head of Communications Siphiwe Dlamini has previously said the SANDF would continue to provide support service at request.