Border security has become an important national priority – so much so that is has supplanted South Africa’s attempts to bring peace to the African continent. The South African National Defence Force will deploy 22 companies to strengthen the land borders over the next four years, according to the military’s Chief Director Operations, Major General Barney Hlatshwayo.
Hlatshwayo was speaking this morning at defenceWeb‘s second annual Border Control conference, where he reminded the SANDF is the lead department for safeguarding the border line, but will work alongside a multitude of other agencies. “Right now the indication is the government is willing to support the SANDF so it’s imperative we come up with appropriate plans,” he said. “I think there’s good guidance emanating from above…Operation Corona [the border safeguarding endeavour] is a priority.”
Hlatshwayo outlined the SANDF’s landward border protection roll-out plan from now until March 2015. In the first phase, ending this month, four companies were deployed along the north-east borders, with two engineering troops in support to repair broken-down border fences. The second phase, beginning next month, will see a further three companies deployed, taking the total to seven, excluding the two engineer troops. Their area of deployment will grow from the Zimbabwe and Mozambique border lines to include the Kruger National Park, Swaziland and Lesotho.
Phase three will see twelve sub-units deployed from April 2012 while phase four, from April 2013, will see troops being deployed along the border with Namibia and Botswana. In phase 5, from April 2014, further deployments will follow, mostly to the Botswana and Namibian frontiers. By this time there will be 22 companies safeguarding South Africa’s land borders. However, Hlatshwayo noted that the SANDF would be established on the border well before FY2014/2015 – possibly as early as FY2012/2013.
Hlatshwayo said that Operation Corona “is a complete departure from the past.” Safeguarding South Africa’s 4500 km land border and 2800 km sea border is a logical extension of the defence of the territorial integrity of the Republic of South Africa, Hlatshwayo said, and the way the land, air and sea borders are managed will be a determining factor contributing to the safety, security and stability of South Africa. The SANDF’s mission is the joint interdepartmental employment of forces to enforce state authority in the land, air and maritime border domains in support of national security objectives.
Hlatshwayo said that, “Our going back to the border mustn’t be understood as a one department show,” and added that people can forget about the SANDF fixing the border by itself as it needs to be “an interdepartmental effort”. Other government role players include the departments of Home Affairs, Tourism, Health, Public Works, Transport, State Security, Agriculture and the South African Police Service (SAPS).
“Previously you’d have a company positioned there and another there,” Hlatshwayo said. “Now we’re talking a mission headquarters and company commanders integrating with other agencies. This is a departure from the past.”
Hlatshwayo noted that securing the borders needs to involve South Africa’s neighbours, particularly Zimbabwe and Mozambique and said that these countries must also play their part. “When we look across into Zimbabwe and Mozambique it’s quiet,” he said.
The general touched on the issue of the un-coordinated manner in which the responsibility for border security shifted between the police and the army. “When the border was transferred from SANDF to other departments, we should not be shy to admit it was a mistake,” Hlatshwayo said. “I want to correct a notion that the army was called back because the police failed…there was no way the SAPS could inherit the force levels and capabilities of the defence force.”
The SAPS will be leaving the borders at the end of this month, even though the SANDF has “begged and pleaded” with them to stay, leaving areas of the border without any policing. “There is no SAPS exit strategy and SANDF entry strategy. What is happening there are areas that are not policed. The farming communities have to police themselves,” said Henri Boshoff from the Institute of Security Studies.
Hlatshwayo reported some of the border patrol successes achieved during the 2010/2011 fiscal year. Contraband with a value of R61 million rand was seized while 400 criminals were arrested and 19 641 illegal foreigners were recorded.