The South African Army will be back on some of the nation’s land borders from this week, although conditions for them will at first be austere. Government last year reversed a decision taken in 2003 to hand over borderline control to the police and later announced the military would resume the function from April 1 – this Thursday.
The military had, however, by March last year dismantled its border patrol infrastructure and handed over the facilities it previously used to the police. These must now be returned to the defence department and may need refurbishing before being recommissioned. In the meantime, the troops deployed along the border will have to make do with austere conditions.
“Rewarding the borders, we will be there in full from next month [April 1], SA Army chief, Lt General Solly Shoke said at a media breakfast last week. “The order has been given and as soldiers we fulfill that instruction.”
Shoke, who has in previous years described his service as over-stretched, also intimated the successful conclusion of the peace mission in Burundi, as well as a new HIV policy has relieved some of the pressure. Up to late 2008, the SA Army had to provide a battalion of troops every six months for each of three peace missions; the one in Burundi, another in the Democratic Republic of Congo and he last in Sudan’s Darfur. Under a policy applied until last year, all these soldiers had to be tested for HIV before departure and only those found to be clear of infection were deployed.
“The borders will not be that much of a problem per se,” Shoke said, “because as you are aware for people to be deployed externally we used stringent measures to select those individuals [HIV testing], but we do have the manpower internally to do that and over and above that we have the reserves and I think we will utilise them for that role as well.
Turning to the FIFA soccer World Cup in June and July, Shoke said the Army was ready to support the police as required. “We are ready for both events [border duty and World Cup security]. In terms of the World Cup, we are ready to help where needed. In the Army we will be in a state of high alert [meaning all leave has been cancelled]. We are not the lead department, we will act in support of the police.”