Cabinet returns SANDF to border duty

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The South African National Defence Force is again responsible for borderline control and protection, following a Cabinet decision announced yesterday. This reverses a decision made in 2003 to return the task to the South African Police Service.

Cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko says the national executive “approved the request to deploy the SANDF to render borderline control and protection. The deployment of the SANDF will be incorporated into the border control strategy being finalised by the JCPS (Justice, Crime Prevention and Security) cluster.

The cluster includes the departments of defence, correctional services, home affairs, justice, police and state security.

In addition to patrolling the borderline, Maseko said they might also be deployed to border posts.

The 2003 Cabinet decision resulted in the SANDF handing back the borderline function, taken over from the police in 1987 in a controlled manner. The SANDF has not previously been present at border posts.

The last soldiers deployed for the task, an infantry company at Musina, on the Zimbabwe border, were to have been withdrawn in late March. However, as they were about to board their transport to return to base, an instruction was telephoned to them from the office of then defence minister, Charles Nqakula, for them to remain in place.

A company is currently still deployed at Musina and is patrolling a 55km stretch of border in support of the police. Then-President Kgalema Motlanthe on April 29 signed Presidential Minute 549/2009 authorising their continued deployment there until after the 2010 Soccer World Cup following a request from Police minister Nathi Mthethwa on March 17.

“You are right this does constitute a change in policy,” Maseko said at a media briefing about decisions taken at the two-weekly Cabinet meeting.

“The (Thabo Mbeki administration) decided that the SANDF for instance don’t have arresting powers and secondly the deployment of the Defence Force in the past was essentially meant to deal with the coming in of trained members of the liberation movements and that is why the SANDF was deployed in the past.

“A policy decision was taken that it should be a police matter to deal with the protection of our borders.

“What this decision says is ‘yes that decision was taken but we seem to have had many problems with regard to the protection of our borders’. So what this policy basically says is that we will change the policy of the previous government.

“Deploy members of the SANDF to make sure that we deal with the cross border especially the crime that is taking place in some of our borders where cars are stolen from South Africa and taken to neighbouring countries etc.

“It was felt the SANDF may have the capability to deal with especially organised crime that is taking place in our border post so that is what basically motivated this particular policy.

“As I was saying earlier on this decision will be incorporated into the border control strategy that the JCPS Cluster is currently finalising. No figures were given at this particular meeting about how many soldiers will be required to perform this function. No timeframes were agreed to and no timeframes was set for the first deployment of the SANDF.

“So there is going to be planning particularly by the SANDF but in the short term; (police) will continue to perform this role until such time that the SANDF is ready to deploy and perform this particular function.

Maseko said Cabinet must still decide whether the SANDF will permanently replace or merely support the police.

“Wherever deployment of SANDF in the borders replaces the police, at this particular point in time, no specific decision has been taken (sic),” Maseko said in reply to a reporter’s question.

“But as the Defence Force prepares its deployment strategy, it may come and say we can actually take over this function immediately and replace the police from this particular function.

“But in the foreseeable future, my sense is that we are going to have an intermediary phase where certain parts of the border are guarded by the police and certain parts guarded by the SANDF until such time that the SANDF can take over this function completely,” he added.

“The objective is that this function must be given to the SANDF but in the intermediary period there may just be a joint operation by both the police and the Defence Force.”

Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman has welcomed the move. “Doing border patrol or protection work is excellent field training, practical training for soldiers. It prepares them for a lot of the things that they would encounter in a peacekeeping operation or a real war; so instead of spending a lot of money on field training exercises, you can actually use them practically to protect the border,” he told Primedia.

Other analysts have previously criticised the move, saying the military was already over-stretched with its peacekeeping commitments and lacked the necessary budget.

It is understood the military will draw on the Reserve Force for troops.



Pic: A section of the SA- Zimbabwe borderline