Govt presence on north-east borders to quadruple


Government, in the form of the South African National Defence Force, will quadruple its presence along a stretch of SA’s ill-guarded 4862 kilometre land frontier this week as four reinforced infantry companies deploy along sections of the Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique borders from today.

In a related development, the Department of Defence says it is reaching out to farmers as preparations are laid for a series of high-level meetings to cement relationships, exchange information and tighten border control systems. “We are going back to the border under the South African Border Management Agency (BMA) that was approved by Cabinet. We will complement and work closely with other law enforcement agencies. When Cabinet approved the SANDF redeployment to the border, it said working with other law enforcement agencies, we must bring a end 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,” Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said in a statement issued overnight.

The true scale of cross-border crime, which is known to include human trafficking, illegal migration, drug smuggling, the export of stolen vehicles and stock theft, is presently unknown as no-one is monitoring, let alone policing, the bulk of the country’s land borders aside from border posts. The police last April told Parliament it had 77 officers on the Zimbabwe border “jointly deployed with the SANDF”, 221 on the Mozambique border, 207 facing Lesotho, and 146 opposite Swaziland. In addition, the police had “established permanent sea border control units at Richards Bay and Simon’s Town. Members are also deployed at Alexander Bay to execute an intervention operation along the West Coast, from Alexander Bay to Green River mouth. In terms of air border control, all provinces have trained members who are performing the function. The SA Police Service developed a Border Security Strategy and is successfully executing this strategy,” the law enforcement agency avered. But analysts including Helmoed-Römer Heitman and Henri Boshoff of the Institute for Security Studies have openly scoffed at the efficacy of the strategy and the numbers of police assigned.

DoD needs farmer cooperation in border security

Sisulu adds that much of South Africa’s landward border abuts farmland. “Farmers are therefore a critically interested party in the maintenance of security on our borders, and farming communities can play a key role in support of border control initiatives. To forge stronger links with farming communities, and other land-owners including municipalities, the DoD has embarked on an outreach programme to exchange information, identify challenges and share experiences.”

Her office says a series of engagements are on the programme with farmers’ organisations, including a high-level meeting between Sisulu and AgriSA. Regional and provincial engagements are also in the pipeline. “The Department of Defence hopes that the outcome of the meetings will inform its ultimate strategy, and the roles each group will play in ensuring that there is a holistic approach to securing the country’s borders.”

DoD Head of Communications Siphiwe Dlamini added that the SANDF is now “implementing the first phase of Operation Corona. It is a multi-phased landward border safekeeping operation. The first phase sees the dispatch of four companies of 125 soldiers each to the north eastern borders to conduct foot and mobile patrols, monitoring of the fence and reaction capabilities.”

Advance teams of SANDF engineers were deployed earlier this year to inspect the condition of facilities and prepare for the return of the troops this week. The roll out of phase one of the operation will be complete by May 31. (The date incidentally marks the Centenary of the creation of a unitary South Africa – within its current borders – from four British-controlled colonies.)

The decision to send soldiers back to the borders follows a deliberation by cabinet in October 2009, the DoD statement adds. The DoD says it is working closely with the police and Home Affairs departments “to maximise efficiencies and effectiveness”.

The SANDF has previously said the for companies will be deployed 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. There will be an additional expenditure of R8 million on communications infrastructure, R5 million on base repair, R7 million to mend fences and R15 million on new patrol vehicles.

Freedom Front Plus defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald in February said it had been a mistake to withdraw the SANDF from the border, “but the mistake is now being corrected.” The MP added the defence force was able to conduct border control cheaper and more effectively than the police. “Military personnel are specifically trained for patrol work and area protection and work 24 hours. Police do not receive this specialist training and demand overtime payment.”

Pic: A stretch of the SA-Mozambique borderline near Macadamia, around the turn of the Millennium.