That South African soldiers achieve the successes they do in apprehending undocumented people, seizing contraband and recovering stolen vehicles among others is testimony to the sweat equity put into the border protection tasking Operation Corona.
Since taking over the tasking on instruction from the SA Police Service, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) mainly in the form of infantry and Reserve Force units, has done their level best to perform the impossible – constant patrol and intelligence gathering along thousands of kilometres of land border.
Much of the work done as regards recovery of stolen vehicles and livestock as well as seizure of contraband and narcotics is more police orientated than pure soldiering according to some commentators. At the same time it is acknowledged the soldiers are deployed and working under difficult conditions in mostly harsh terrain so apprehension of more than 5 700 undocumented persons in the six months ending mid-October is an achievement in the military sense of seeking an enemy and apprehending him or her before damage or hurt is caused.
In addition to virtually 24/7 patrol work, both on foot and in the specially adapted mobility package vehicles, Op Corona soldiers also rely on intelligence. This comes from elements of the SA Army Intelligence Formation and, importantly, people living close to the borders. Soldiers also make use of intelligence gleaned by officials from other government departments based at official points of entry and exit in an ongoing quest to at least slow down the flow of illegal goods into South Africa.
Earlier this month, an intelligence driven task saw the single largest daily recovery of contraband in the Macadamia base area near the Mozambique border.
Soldiers confiscated 71 bales of clothing including four thousand nine hundred pairs of sneakers and trainers. SANDF Joint Operations Division said they did not check whether each pair was original or fake adding the estimated total value of the single day’s haul was in excess of R4 million.
More than 15 000 kg of dagga was taken from smugglers attempting to access the South African black market for this narcotic in the six month period. By far the majority of the drug was confiscated on South Africa’s border with Lesotho, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Soldiers also confiscated 261 Mandrax tablets.
Livestock rustling is another “pastime” soldiers regularly find themselves having to halt. A total of 1 606 head of livestock, the majority cattle with sheep, goats and “others” making up the balance were either impounded or returned to rightful owners.
Soldiers are increasingly coming into contact with stolen vehicles as thieves attempt to move them out of the country using little-known tracks. That this doesn’t always work is evidenced by the recovery of 95 vehicles conservatively valued at more than R16 million in the six month period. The majority of vehicles – 52 – were recovered in Mpumalanga with the remainder in Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Nineteen firearms – four rifles and 15 handguns – were also taken from people attempting to smuggle them either in our out of the country.