South African farmers have pledged their support to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), saying they are willing to assist the SANDF as it patrols the country’s borders. Following a meeting with Defence and Military Veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu yesterday morning, farmers’ lobby AgriSA said while the task is being spearheaded by the SANDF, thousands of other people – including farmers and rural communities would also be involved.
The state BuaNews agency reports Sisulu met the farmers’ organisation to discuss how they could partner the SANDF in Operation Corona, the code-name for the border patrol initiative that got underway last month with the deployment of three infantry companies of 125 soldiers each to take the number along the Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swazi borders to four.
The Ministry of Defence & Military Veterans in a statement added that Sisulu in her opening remarks spoke of the strategic value of much of the land adjacent to South Africa’s borders. Ose said only 13% of South Africa’s land surface is considered arable, “with a relatively high proportion on our borders.” She noted South African farmers, commercial and subsistence, whether on the borders and in the hinterland, make a critical contribution to the food security and welfare of the nation.
AgriSA President, Johannes Möller according to the statement added that the strict and consistent maintenance of the integrity of South Africa’s borders is important for trade, disease control, combating of crime and illegal entry, and also to properly protect landowner’s right to use their property, against cross-border interference and crime.
“The defence force has proposed a new way of patrolling our borders and we [farmers] as civil society have bought in to this system and decided to cooperate. It will be an intelligence driven exercise,” Möller said.
BuaNews adds Secretary for Defence designate Mpumi Mpofu said AgriSA had raised concerns about the challenges farmers’ face as a result of poor policing on the border. This included stock theft, the safety of farm workers, food security and having to deal with illegal immigrants who passed through the farms, the government agency said. In response, Mpofu “assured the farmers that the department was making progress with its efforts to step up security at the borders,” BuaNews said.
She added that the Department of Defence would regularly meet with AgriSA and other agricultural organisations to ensure that farmers were informed on any new developments. Mpofu added the SANDF has also identified the Lesotho border as an area to concentrate on.
Meanwhile, Mpumalanga’s Department of Safety, Security and Liaison is implementing an anti-corruption strategy at ports of entry to ensure that police officers do not participate in illegal activities, BuaNews separately reported. It quoted MEC Sibongile Manana as saying the “initiative will continue to be the focus during the 2010/2011 financial year to ensure effective service delivery and the improved integrity of our officials at the ports of entry, through coordinated law enforcement.
“Our mandate is to fight crime and, as we do that, we do not expect law enforcers to be found wanting. Should that happen; we are not going to hesitate in arresting them and ensuring that we hand them the orange uniform. Therefore, all our officials at borders have been vetted and screened,” she added.
Manana added police officers deployed along Mpumalanga’s borders with Mozambique and Swaziland had confiscated 11 illegal firearms, recovered 35 stolen vehicles, seized 243kg of dagga and confiscated 10 900 various illegal articles, including cigarettes, cattle and copper cables during the previous financial year. In total, the police had made 1030 arrests at borders, she said.
Manana further announced that the SANDF had already started taking control of border safety in the province and would focus on mobile operations conducted at night. “It became evident that the deployment of the SAPS [the national police] to look after the border lines was not yielding the desired results and Operation Corona, as the deployment of the soldiers is called, is now taking place. About 200 SANDF members have been deployed to operate the border lines in the province and the handover of the Macadamia base, phase one of the operation was done from May 9 to 12. Both the advance team and main force have reported for duty.”
Troops stationed at the Macadamia base will be responsible for the border area from Mbuzini to the Crocodile River. Those deployed during phase two will police the Sand River in the Kruger National Park, while phase three will involve troops who will focus on the country’s border with Swaziland.
“We hope this new development will go a long way in ensuring adequate security on our borders. Meanwhile, the SAPS will continue to operate the ports of entry,” Manana said.