Damage done to the migration control fences on the South African borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the last year will cost about R150 million to fix. The General Officer Commanding Joint Operational Headquarters Major General Barney Hlatswayo says around R100 million of this is needed on the Nabob fence that runs just south of the Limpopo River that forms the border with SA’s troubled northern neighbour.
Both the Nabob and Kaftan fences are largely intact, an inspection by Hlatswayo and journalists Tuesday and yesterday found. Both lines consist of two perimeter fences with a central pyramid of barbed wire coils that contain a number of trip wires. When active, these sound the alarm at a guard post known as an “Echo Station”. One of these are generally found every 8-10km along the border. Each post can house a section of troops in some comfort. In addition to sleeping quarters, each has a kitchen area a well as ablution facilities. Power and running water is on hand. At each post is an alarm board that will show where the alarm wires have been tripped, allowing a reaction force t investigate. Each post also has a power generator in case mains power fails. This would then provide electricity to both the fence in that sector and the domestic area.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) handed the Kaftan line – and supporting infrastructure such as the Macadamia operational base – over to police in 2007 in terms of a decision announced by President Thabo Mbeki in his 2003 State of the Nation address. The police took over most of the Nabob line in 2008 and was to assume complete responsibility by April 2009. But in mid-March of that year, then-President Kgalema Motlanthe reversed the 2003 decision and the SANDF retained one company on the border at Musina to support the police under Operation Intexo.
A further Cabinet decision late last year placed the military in charge of borderline control. The deployment was mandated in term of Section 18(1)(d) of the Defence Act 42 of 2002 that authorises the President or the Minister of Defence to employ of the SANDF for service inside the Republic or in international waters, in order to effect national border control, a departure from the post-2003 deployments where the military was distinctly deployed in support of the police who had the border control mandate. Under the new mandate, the SANDF – in terms of Section 20(1) of the Defence Act – “has the same powers and duties [to arrest, detain, seize and search] as those conferred or imposed upon a member of the South African Police Service (SAPS)”.
The SANDF deployed three more companies in May as part of Operation Corona, taking force levels to four companies: two in Limpopo, one in Mpumalanga and another in KwaZulu-Natal. Just prior to that deployment Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu and Members of Parliament visited some of the facilities and found them in a shocking state. The contractor who had maintained the Nabob line had been liquidated in December last year and since then no maintenance had been done on the fence. Along the Kaftan, the police had reportedly neglected to renew the maintenance contract. As a result both alarm systems had broken down. Police deployed to the Echo Stations also showed a low interest in their tasks. At one station visited by Sisulu and the MPs, officers were seen drunk at 10am while the area was littered with discarded take-away food and empty bottles. A less activist patrol pattern had also seen vandals and smugglers cut holes in the fences almost at will – and often in sight of an Echo Station. Sections of the razor wire perimeter fence was also stolen as were lengths of power cable, rendering the alarm system useless.
The Echo Stations, which had been repaired before being handed over, were also in a poor state. Toilets were blocked and septic tanks were over flowing, windows were broken and in many places, geysers had not been switched off when the on-site water tanks ran dry, causing the elements inside to burn out.
As part of Corona, the SANDF has also deployed two engineering troops (platoon equivalents) to make some emergency repairs to the fencelines and prevent its further deterioration. However, border-crossers wishing to evade the Musina and Komatipoort ports-of-entry for whatever reason keep cutting the fence or re-opening previous breaks. Hlatswayo says they will have to do as best they can until the new financial year. He adds tender processes are underway to award new contracts for repairing an then maintaining the fences. This includes keeping the alarm system functional, clearing the area between the perimeter fences of vegetation and ensuring it remains clear; as well as preventing erosion along both the fence line and the adjacent road. While the road along Nabob is covered, it is very thinly metalled – 5mm of tar – and currently potholed in places. Erosion from water run-off is evident in many places. Along Kaftan erosion is severe. The dirt road used by patrols as well as resupply vehicles is badly rutted and in a poor state along most of its length from the Kruger National Park to the Swazi border, a distance of some 60km.
In February, the Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima and his Chief Director for Operations, Rear Admiral Philip Schöultz, told Pariament some R5 million was needed this year on base repair, and R7 million to mend the fences.
Pic: A representative man-sided hole cut in the Nabob fence west of Musina in Limpopo. Here holes had been cut in both perimeter fences (the northern wire shown) as well as through the central obstacle than consists of the alarm wires running inside six coils of “danert” barbed wire, piled 3-2-1 (three parallel on the ground, two on top of that and one on top, forming a pyramid if viewed from the side). Rocks had been placed on the wire to facilitate ease of crossing. Note the cattle tracks in the foreground. Foot-and-mouth disease is endemic in the area and Limpopo farmers fear that cattle that come through the fence could pread the disease to the south, hereby wrecking the local meat and game industry.