Phase Four of the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) border protection tasking Operation Corona is underway with two companies currently working out of major centres in Northern Cape and North West in preparation for full deployment.
This phase will see soldiers deployed at strategic points along the South African border with Botswana and Namibia.
When full deployment is reached by no later than the end of the current financial year it will mean more than 3 600 military personnel, the majority of them from the SA Army, backed by the Reserve Force and with support from the SA Air Force (SAAF), will be safeguarding the country’s borders from unwanted and illegal incursions.
There are currently in the region of 2 000 soldiers, Special Forces operators and SAAF elements working border protection along the Mozambique and Zimbabwe borders. This number includes signallers, SA Army Intelligence Formation scouts, SA Military Health Services (SAMHS) personnel and other support elements.
In addition to border protection soldiers based in the Kruger National Park also work on anti-rhino poaching operations with rangers and police.
According to a reliable SANDF source, who did not want to be named, the two companies have been working on setting up full deployment for the past three months.
“They are currently based in Mafikeng and Upington working on setting up the right infrastructure and liaising with land-owners on traversing and utilisation aspects,” he said.
He could not give an indication of when soldiers would start actual patrolling of the north-western and western boundaries of the country.
The increased attention to border protection has been welcomed by FF+ MP and defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald.
“Operation Corona, which started more than two years ago as an SANDF tasking, is a necessary one if South Africa is to make inroads into cross-border crimes, such as smuggling, and the influx of illegal immigrants.
“I will appeal to the National Treasury to make sufficient funding available for this operation to not only continue but be expanded because of its importance.”
The former officer in one of the now disbanded Commando units added these were responsible from “home defence” which included border protection.
“Again, it’s one of those where the government of the day has to learn from its mistakes. If the Commando system was not disbanded it would have meant additional manpower for the SANDF to fulfil other tasks. Additionally it would have been cheaper than using full-time force members with support from the Reserves.”
The latest information supplied by the military on its border protection successes show more than R18 million Rand worth of contraband, including cigarettes, liquor, clothing and make-up confiscated in 15 months of patrolling. In the same period over 12 400 illegal immigrants were apprehended by soldiers and handed to police and Department of Home Affairs officials. Seventy-six stolen vehicles were also recovered by the men and women in uniform who also took possession of 98 illegal firearms, more than a thousand head of livestock and 15 300kg of dagga.