The porous state of South Africa’s borders is harmful to farmers as they are subject to stock theft, crime and diseases, farmers’ organisation AgriSA says. The recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in KwaZulu Natal is a direct result of damaged border fences that allowed infected cattle through to South Africa.
According to Kobus Breytenbach, AgriSA’s Rural Safety Committee deputy chair, the fence between Mozambique and South Africa has been vandalised, leading to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease that is affecting more than 600 head of cattle in northern KwaZulu-Natal. “South Africa is now in quarantine and cannot export any meat products to foreign countries,” he told defenceWeb‘s second annual Border Control conference.
Earlier this month, the Inkatha Freedom Party said the non-existent fence line in KwaZulu-Natal was to blame for the outbreak of foot and mouth disease there. “The broken down fence alongside the failure to enforce border controls has resulted in a free flow of infected cattle from Mozambique,” said agriculture, environmental affairs and rural development spokesperson Henry Combrinck. R25 million had been allocated to fix fences, but was not spent.
Breytenbach said that foot and mouth disease is having a negative impact on various industries within South Africa and has hit the agricultural sector particularly hard. Stock farmers and wool traders cannot trade due to the export restrictions of placed on South Africa by international agricultural regulatory bodies. “No health certificates can be issued for the export of unprocessed wool. Jobs may be lost and the long term viability of the wool industry may be compromised,” he says. About 89% of South African wool is exported.
The Namibian government has banned the importation on cloven hoofed animals, their products, hides and trophies while Botswana has banned the importation of South African milk for processing. South Africa normally exports approximately 100 000 litres of milk to the country every day, according to Breytenbach. “The industry will bear the consequences of this financial impact,” he says.
“My concern is we are going to spread animal disease if we don’t have proper border control. It is clear the state of some border fences is so poor they will not prevent the movement of animals and criminals. Farmers make a critical contribution to food security and the wealth of our nation,” Breytenbach says. “Approximately 30% of South Africa’s land surface is considered arable with a relative high portion on our borders. The farming activities and the border are hampered by cross border crimes and the crossing of illegal immigrants into South Africa.”
“In some cases fences are in a poor state of disrepair. This encourages the illegal movement of goods, stolen vehicles, livestock, drugs, illegal immigrants, poachers and smugglers.” Breytenbach adds that some of the cases reported to AgriSA include large sections of the Zimbabwe border fence being debilitated and gates standing wide open; increased smuggling of meat across the Zimbabwean border with the associated risk of disease and large scale drug smuggling. A red meat producers organisation visited the Botswana border and found that the fence there restricted the free movement of animals but not people. In Mozambique some areas of the fence are maintained and patrolled, but other regions have gaps in the fences. “Going over to the Lesotho border, large sections of border, approximately 130 kilometres, between the Free State and Lesotho do not exist.”
According to Breytenbach, some of the problems facing farmers along the border included farm attacks, vehicle theft, illegal grazing, drug smuggling and stock theft. Citizens from Lesotho regularly cut the fence and drive their cattle across the border to illegally graze in South Africa. The economic effects of these issues are enormous – some farms along the borders are lying fallow and after a farm attack it takes an average of two years before farm production resumes to normal levels.
“Due to the lack of effective border control, Free State agriculture resorted to the courts to seek relief and reached settlement agreement. In 2010 this court case was heard in high court and the agreement was made a court order,” Breytenbach reports. The agreement involves rebuilding the Free State/Lesotho border road and fence at a cost of R5.5 million. “A start has been made on rebuilding 130 km of fence.” Personnel will also be deployed to the border areas. “In the eastern part where the SANDF was deployed almost a year ago, notable achievements have been made. Farmers and businesspeople have reported a drop in cross border crimes in the area and a number of arrests have been made,” Breytenbach says.
AgriSA believes farmers and communities along the borders play an important part in border security. “The establishment of cross border liaison committees to establish good neighbour relationships will also play an important role in improving the situation,” Breytenbach says, and adds that South African agricultural expertise can help neighbouring countries. AgriSA also believes in the importance of involving entire border and rural communities, including farmers, to create a holistic approach to border security.
Part of that approach involves sector policing and border patrols. The SANDF will be returning toe the borders in April after its 183 commando units were withdrawn in 2008. “Agri SA supports the return of the defence force to the border. As an organisation we are ready to assist the government in this process,” Breytenbach says. “Our view on border control is strict and constant maintenance of border integrity, which is important for trade, disease control, combating crime, illegal entry and to effectively protect land owner’s rights to safeguard their property.”
The border areas will be strengthened by the deployment of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops under Operation Corona. According to Major General Barney Hlatshwayo, chief director of operations of the Joint Operations Division of the South SANDF, 22 companies will be deployed to the borders over the next four years. The SANDF will initially be deploying to the Kruger Park, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and will later move to Namibia and Botswana. There will be 1 168 SANDF personnel on the borderline in 2011/12 and 2 158 in 2013/14.