A gendarmerie for SA?


South Africa should consider a gendarmerie for border policing, freeing both the military and the police to concentrate on their primary functions. That’ the view of Institute for Security Studies peace missions programme head Henri Boshoff.

Speaking at the defenceWeb Border Control 2011 conference, he welcomed the return to the border of the South African National Defence Force, but worried that the military “will also have to find a way to regain the local knowledge of the border areas lost when the commando system was disbanded,” in terms of a 2003 Cabinet decision to mobilise the SA Army’s area protection capability. “Perhaps they need to find some way to draw them [former commandos] into the Reserve Force under a different system.”

Military analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman made a similar call at defenceWeb’s inaugural border control conference, last year March. “The argument for a separate Border Guard falls down for the same reasons as earlier arguments for a separate Coast Guard: South Africa is not wealthy enough to afford a multiplicity of security services, and is not so small as to do without a defence force,” he said at the time. “That said, a good case can be made for forming a ‘Gendarmerie’ type force in South Africa to take over a number of functions from the police – riot control, anti-terrorist, airport and harbour security – and perhaps also the border protection function from the defence force. There are real advantages in having such a constabulary that frees the police to do normal policing and the defence force to focus on its role.”

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu drew a similar lesson from last year’s soccer World Cup, saying that deploying soldiers and police together involved some difficulties. “The question is who comes first, is it the defence force or the police. Because here we have the NATJOC [national joint operational centre] that is led by the police, because they have the internal mandate. Our mandate is the border and further afield. Then you have the situation that the police would be sending the troops to do some of the work. Now, nobody can deploy the troops but the president of the country. There are two different standards we have to unravel. What we can do is perhaps create a particular force that has the same kind of energy and same kind of infrastructure without the trappings and responsibilities legislation puts on the defence force.”

In his address, on behalf of Sisulu, SANDF Chief Director Operations, Major General Barney Hlatshwayo, said the time may have come to say the closure of the commandos had been a mistake, as had been the decision, taken at the same time, to withdraw the military from the borders.

Boshoff added it was important to “look at systems that worked in the past.” It was also an appropriate juncture “to seriously look at an integrated strategy that looked further than border control and towards the concept of area safeguarding, especially in the border environment and adjacent rural areas. He was also disconcerted that the police was this month withdrawing from the border line, while Hlatswayo noted it would take until April 2014 to deploy the 22 companies of troops needed to replace them. This would mean that some borders would not be patrolled for the time being.

A further discordant note was the announcement, last month, that a Border Management Agency, announced by President Jacob Zuma in May 2009 to coordinate border control, would only be established in 2014. He questioned whether the Border Control Coordinating Committee (BCOCC), that would retain this task until then, was still functioning and whether the JOINTS (Joint Operational Intelligence System, a command and control mechanism) was still sufficiently functional to facilitate such a strategy.