Border protection duties have claimed the lives of 16 South African soldiers over the past three years.
This is according to a reply to a Parliamentary question posed to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, as reported by Cape Town daily Beeld.
The soldiers were killed while deployed as part of the Operation Corona border protection tasking. This task was returned to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) three years ago after the SA Police Service indicated it could not continue with this responsibility.
In addition to border protection, Operation Corona also sees soldiers active in preventing livestock rustling, smuggling of goods and rhino poaching.
According to the Minister, five soldiers died in 2011 and five in 2012, with this year’s death toll standing at six on border protection.
SANDF head of communication, Siphiwe Dlamini, told the paper the soldiers did not necessarily die in firefights.
“Deployed troops are exposed to any number of hazards including vehicle crashes, illnesses and diseases including malaria as well as armed illegal immigrants and poachers.”
Mapisa-Nqakula reported that since 1994, 100 soldiers have died during deployments, including 79 deaths abroad. Thirteen soldiers were killed during a battle in the Central African Republic in March.
The SANDF is currently deploying more troops to the borders as part of Phase Four of Operation Corona, with two companies currently working out of major centres in the 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.
Phase One of the border safeguarding initiative witnessed deployments on the South Africa/Zimbabwe borderline. Phase two saw the SANDF deploy on the Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho borders. Phase Three, which began on April 1, 2012, reinforced deployments on these borders.
In addition to soldiers, nearly 100 engineers are deployed to maintain the Nabob fences on the borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The Department of Defence has noted that additional funding will have to be allocated to ensure all 15 sub-units of Operation Corona are adequately prepared to safeguard the borders. An additional R100 million for this task was allocated in the 2011/12 defence budget vote. In 2012/13 the DoD will request an additional R236 million for this task and an additional R357 million in 2013/14.
Numerous successes have been recorded by SANDF troops on the borders. For FY2010/11, the SANDF seized R63.6 million worth of contraband goods, ten weapons, 230 kg of dagga, 76 livestock, 463 kg of precious metals, arrested 403 criminals, recovered 22 stolen vehicles and apprehended 20 107 undocumented persons.
For the FY2011/12 year, 15 904 undocumented persons were recorded while R29.5 million worth of contraband goods were seized; 19 firearms were recovered; 8 682 kg of dagga were seized, 61 stolen vehicles and 453 kg of precious metals were recovered while 414 criminals were arrested. 1 373 livestock were confiscated.
Over the last 15 months of patrolling, the SANDF has confiscated more than R18 million worth of contraband, including cigarettes, liquor, clothing and make-up. 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 15 300 kg of dagga.