Funding and technology necessary to “plug” borders

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Safe and secure borders – air, land and sea – are critical for any country’s sovereignty and at the same time assure investors the country is open for business and eager for investment.

This was how Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, introduced the thorny issue of border security at last week’s in-person and virtual South African Sovereign Security conference.

He leveraged this opening into growing the economy, at national, provincial and local authority level, to reduce unemployment and unlock natural resources and manufacturing capacity, before returning to the realities of South Africa at present.

Marais said the country needed more than the current spend of .67% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for its defence budget.

“If the decline is not arrested, it will exacerbate the downward spiralling of the national defence force and its critical capabilities.”

On border protection and border control, Marais referred to the 2002 Defence Act which makes provision for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to “effect national border control”. This is also reflected in the 1996 iteration of the Constitution which allows for deployment of the SANDF in co-operation with the SA Police Service (SAPS).

The “new kid on the block” as it were in South African border protection, is the Border Management Authority (BMA) which makes reference to the role of the SANDF and “demonstrates the authority does not replace the national defence force in its border safeguarding function”.

Against this background the SANDF border protection tasking Operation Corona sees elements of law enforcement, enforcement of state authority and defending South Africa’s territorial integrity. Marais told delegates there is a grey area between the SANDF and what other government departments and agencies involved in border protection do. Among them are agriculture; environment, forestry and fisheries; health; finance via customs and excise and SARS (SA Revenue Service) and transport.

Between them they oversee 4 471 km of land border; an air border of 7 600 km covering over 1.2 million square km and a 3 924 km long coastline. Maritime protection extends to the 1.5 million square km South African exclusive economic zone and maritime service territory of 4.3 million square km.

Marais had a number of suggestions for delegates on how to improve specifically land border protection, currently the responsibility of 15 companies of mostly infantry and Reserve Force units and regiments.

Number one is reprioritising the border safeguarding responsibility and optimally resourcing it with technology as well as providing funding, the requisite human capital and equipment. This, Marais maintains, will see a lethal rapid response force able to plug holes along land borders.

Other suggestions include increasing deployed companies, often called “sub-units” in bureaucratese, to at least 22; improving logistic and aerial support and surveillance to determine hotspots and improving mobility for threat reaction.

He also sees high tech, satellite and cyber technology capabilities for 24/7 border surveillance and observation essential if there is to ever be an effective national border protection policy.