Integrated approach needed for effective border security – experts

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South Africa’s border security challenges will only be addressed once root causes are managed and a whole of government approach is taken.

This is according to experts speaking at the Aardvark Roost Electronic Warfare Conference that was held at the CSIR International Convention Centre outside Pretoria on September 4 and 5.

Colonel Anton Grundling from the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Joint Operations division pointed out that securing South Africa’s border posts and borderlines is a sizeable task, as there are 730 registered airports (including ten international) and 1.2 million square kilometres of airspace to monitor. On land, there are more than 52 border posts (17 with Botswana, 14 with Lesotho, 6 with Namibia, 3 with Swaziland and 1 with Zimbabwe) and 4 800 km of land border. On the coastal side, there are 111 ports and 2 800 km of coastline to survey.

Grundling said that illegal migration and poor border security are some of the long standing security challenges that South Africa is facing. The impact on the South African economy due to border security challenges like illegal imports, smuggling etc. is estimated to amount to between 20 and 30 billion rand, he said.

The SANDF has had some successes with the border safeguarding Operation Corona. Between April and July this year, nearly 9 000 undocumented persons were apprehended while almost R13 million worth of contraband was seized in addition to 18 firearms, 5 tons of dagga, 501 livestock, 22 stolen vehicles and 52 kg of precious metals. 277 criminals were also arrested. However, Grundling pointed out that it is hard to gauge such successes because the total volume of crime on the borders is unknown.

There are currently in the region of 2 000 soldiers, Special Forces operators and SA Air Force elements working on border protection along the Mozambique and Zimbabwe borders and the SANDF is preparing to deploy units on the Botswana and Namibia borders. In total, 13 companies are deployed on border protection duties as part of Operation Corona, on the borders with Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Complicating the task of safeguarding South Africa’s borders is the fact that there are many different players involved but they often do not work together. The SANDF, the South African Police Service and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) are the main role players, but over a dozen different departments are involved, such as Home Affairs, State Security, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Health, Transport etc. It is for this reason that an integrated, whole of government approach is needed, according to Grundling.

Duarte Goncalves, Principal Systems Engineer at the CSIR, said that Joint Operations requested the CSIR to look into creating a whole of government approach and consult with the various relevant departments such as Home Affairs, Customs, etc. and create an integrated legal framework to manage the border security process.

He said that as departments are resource constrained and there are not adequate resources to patrol the entire border, the challenge is to have a cross-departmental strategy. Complex security problems are not limited by departmental boundaries – for instance, rhino poaching involves the SANDF (patrolling the border), SARS (following the money trail), the police (arresting poachers) Justice Department (prosecutions) etc. “We need to achieve a common purpose,” he said, citing the 2010 Soccer World Cup as an example of how many different departments can work together for a greater cause.

Goncalves pointed out that the border extends into foreign countries as events across the borderline affect South Africa. Grundling said he would like to see a layered approach to border security with root causes elsewhere addressed first by stability being brought to the continent, the region and South Africa, as they are all interlinked. “We need to promote global peace and security first. We need a whole of government approach,” he urged.

On the military side, Grundling said there were a number of challenges facing military force planners, notably the increasing complexity of operations (especially as warfare becomes more asymmetric), the fluctuating military threat level and declining defence budgets.

One of the most significant challenges facing SANDF troops on the border is that not one of the crimes that occurs on the borders appears in military doctrine manuals, according to Grundling. Some of the common border crimes include corruption, drug and weapon smuggling, animal and stock theft, wood theft, piracy, human trafficking, vehicle crime, poaching etc.

Grundling noted that a big issue is changing the military mindset from conventional warfare with clearly identified enemy forces to asymmetric warfare that affects the economy, politics and social security. “We are caught up in a comfort zone of only wanting to sort out the security problem,” he told delegates at the conference.



For effective border safeguarding, root problems need to be addressed, such as socio-economic instability, illegal migration, violent and syndicated crime, terrorism and extremism.