Advanced technical teams are finalising arrangements for the return of the South African National Defence Force troops to the country’s land borders from April 12, defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu says. Presently a single infantry company is deployed at Musina as part of Operation Corona.
Within the next few weeks three more companies should deploy along other stretches of the Botswana and Zimbabwe border as well as the frontier with Mozambique. Sisulu’s office says that following a briefing by the Chief of the SANDF, she is satisfied “with the process being implemented to redeploy the [military] to support other law enforcement agencies currently patrolling and managing South African borders.
“The Minister was informed that the advance technical teams consisting of engineers, communication experts and logistics are currently on the borders finalising the establishment of headquarters and all other necessary infrastructure for the full return of soldiers,” her spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya says.
“The SANDF is deploying from different bases across the country and troops have been mobilised and are currently being briefed and prepared for the journey back to the border from April 12… The SANDF is deploying on the borders of South Africa and Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.”
A source in the SANDF clarified the Botswana reference referred to stretch of border from around Pontdrift about 20km eastward to the Zimbabwe border and beyond.
Speaking of the return of the SANDF to the borders, Sisulu said the SANDF will support and compliment other law enforcement agencies that are there, “over time more soldiers will patrol the borders and members of the South African Police Service would be deployed in other areas.” This was the same rationale used by the authorities in 1987, the previous occasion the police ceded the borderline control function to the military.
“We are going back to the border under the South African Border Management Agency (BMA) that was approved by Cabinet, we will compliment and work closely with other law enforcement agencies, when Cabinet approved the SANDF redeployment to the border they said working with other law enforcement agencies we must bring a stop to all illegal activities at our borders, from cross border crimes, criminal syndicates, abuse of poor people and stock thefts, and we are ready for the task” Sisulu said. As far as can be determined, however, the BMA does not yet exist.
According to the DoD Strategic Plan for 2010-2013, Cabinet in November 2009 “approved the employment of the SANDF for the full spectrum of border safeguarding services inside South Africa and in international waters. By so doing, Cabinet confirmed the long term responsibility for border control residing with the SANDF.
“In terms of the Cabinet decision, the DoD supports other State departments in respect of border safeguarding. Border safeguarding operations will not be limited to the borderline only, but will include rear area operations.
“Border safeguarding must be viewed and managed as a priority function of the SANDF in relation to its mandate to protect and defend the Republic, its sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests and people, in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force. Consequently, the SANDF must structure, budget and develop capabilities to execute the full spectrum of border safeguarding. The SANDF military strategy and Force employment planning must be adjusted to meet this priority.”
This is a departure from the past. Previously, border protection was seen as a collateral function that had to be accomplished with forces optimised and equipped for the SANDF’s primary function – defending SA’s territorial integrity – only.
The Chief of Joint Operations (J Ops), Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima and his Chief Director for Operations, Rear Admiral Philip Schöultz, in February briefed the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans that the military would re-introduce foot- and standing patrols, observation and listening posts, vehicle control points, reaction force and follow up operations (to include the extended border area) and depth operations (“road blocks to a depth of 20km to the rear of the borderline in conjunction with the SAPS”) in addition to intelligence operations to collect information on illegal cross border activities aimed at preventing illegal immigration, human trafficking and the smuggling of goods, stolen property and drugs.
Matanzima and Schöultz said the SANDF would this year deploy a company each to Pontdrift and Beitbridge, facing Zimbabwe, Macadamia opposite Mozambique and Ndumo in northern KwaZulu-Natal. At a cost of R25 million each, the deployment will cost R100 million for the financial year to March 2011. They further recommended the expenditure of R8 million on communications infrastructure, R5 million on base repair, R7 million to mend border fences and R15 million on acquiring suitable 4×4 vehicles.