Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu is this morning meeting the national and provincial leadership of AgriSA, a national farmers’ lobby group, to discuss the return of the military to patrol border patrol duties – Operation Corona – as well as a partnership to stop cross border crimes.
A Ministry of Defence media advisory says Sisulu will be accompanied by “the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the South African National Defence Force.” The AgriSA delegation will consist of its national and provincial leadership. The meeting was scheduled to start at 9am.
The mlitary last month resumed border patrols along a stretch of SA’s ill-guarded 4862 kilometre land frontier by deploying four reinforced infantry companies along sections of the Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique borders.
Sisulu has for several months said she wanted to meet organised agriculture to exchange information and tighten border control systems. “We are going back to the border… We will complement and work closely with other law enforcement agencies,” Sisulu said last month. “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.”
Farmers has a key role
The minister added 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 said the Department of Defence hoped “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.” The true scale of cross-border crime is presently still unknown as no-one is monitoring, let alone policing, the bulk of the country’s land borders aside from border posts. The police last year 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.
This week police minister Nathi Mthethwa said police would remain on the border, adding the police last year spent R123.8 million guarding the land and sea border. In a written answer to a question asked by the Democratic Alliance, Mthethwa said the police and South African National Defence Force (SANDF) “is currently in the process of developing a strategy with the focus on joint deployment along the borders of the RSA. The [police] will still be responsible for performing the policing function along the borders.” This is important as the military does not have police powers, including arrest, nor the training, equipment or paperwork to process suspected criminals.
Mthethwa added the police currently have 1182 officers – out of some 190 000 – “deployed at the various landward borderlines.” 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.”
DoD Head of Communications Siphiwe Dlamini added in mid-April four companies of 125 soldiers each were being deployed 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 four 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.”