Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula got up close and personal with soldiers deployed on border protection in Mpumalanga this week and said more than R10 million worth of contraband was confiscated since March.
The seizure of contraband, usually cigarettes, liquor, clothing and footwear, is an almost daily occurrence for soldiers on patrol along the Mozambique/South Africa border.
She is reported by SAnews to have told journalists in Komatipoort the soldiers, part of the national border protection tasking Operation Corona, are also active in curbing the flow of illegal immigrants into South Africa and preventing cross-border crime. Soldiers deployed in the Kruger National park assist rangers and other law enforcement agencies in the ongoing battle against rhino poaching.
Another arrow has been added to the law enforcement quiver that aims to stop rhino poachers with the opening of a regional court in Skukuza, the “capital” of Kruger, late last month.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said at the opening “the court is one of a plethora of measures taken in terms of the Integrated Strategic Management approach to combat rhino poaching”.
“Having a regional court in Skukuza will ensure case turnaround times for rhino poaching and related cases are expedited thus making a significant contribution to tackling the illicit trade in rhino horn and related activities.”
According to Mapisa-Nqakula one of the bigger problems facing soldiers attempting to keep illegals out are dilapidated fences and – as ever – a lack of funds.
“An increase in the defence budget would go a long way to address the challenges. We are well equipped to protect the country regardless of the challenges faced,” an upbeat Defence Minister said. “We are also working with our counterparts in both Mozambique and Swaziland in making sure that we fight the crimes together.”
She added that the need for more resources to be allocated to defence was not because “we want to militarise. It is because we want to protect our country”.
The budget shortfall is the main contributor to there currently being 15 companies, the majority of them from Reserve Force units, deployed on Operation Corona duties. The Department of Defence plans to deploy 22 companies in total on border protection over the medium term, but no extra funding has been allocated for the current financial year.
“Operation Corona would have been even more successful if the defence force had had adequate resources so that it can deploy the full complement of companies, which are on standby, to be part of this operation,” she said.
“The intention of being here is to expose South Africans to what the South African National Defence Force is doing, that which it is able to do and that which it is not able to achieve and that all has to do in the main of the cutting down the budget of the SANDF. There is no country in the sub-Saharan region which receives the sort of budget we receive and yet we are supposed to be having a strong SANDF with enormous resources…but we are unable to sustain that which we already have”.
During her visit, the Minister interacted with the Mbuzini community bordering Mozambique and Swaziland and assured them that working together with the soldiers, they will be able to tackle cross-border crimes.
“We came here to talk to you and let you know that as the defence force, we are trying by all means to protect you.
“We know that your cars and livestock are being smuggled through these borders either to Swaziland or Mozambique. We want you to be eyes and ears of the state. Let’s fight these crimes together,” she said.
According to Private Sibusiso Tshunungwa of Johannesburg Regiment, between 20 March and the end of April, 206 unregistered people were arrested and two rhino horns were seized.
“There are areas where you have no visible patrolling by the South African National Defence Force but equally you have areas where you have the full complement of the South African National Defence Force who are patrolling in those areas and in those areas there have been major success stories,” Mapisa-Nqakula told News24.
In an apparent extension of the SANDF’s commitment to rural development she indicated food and other necessities for soldiers should be acquired from local communities in Mpumalanga. Currently the national military rural development effort is limited to a pilot project in North West, centred round the Potchefstroom defence community.