Some 165 South African Army soldiers have been deployed to patrol the international border between the Kruger National Park and Mozambique to combat poaching.
“For the safety of our borderlines and the escalating rhino poaching incidents we have decided to add our troops and divide them so that others will help in the Kruger to [combat] rhino poaching and other cross-border related crimes,” said provincial SANDF force commander Colonel Nceba Bobelo. He adds the deployment of extra troops was the third deployment since the SANDF took over border patrols from the South African Police Service (SAPS) in April last year, the state BuaNews agency reports.
He said there were now 495 soldiers patrolling the border, up from 330 who previously only patrolled borders outside the Kruger National Park. The new troops will patrol the border in the Kruger, as well as the Mbuzini and Komatipoort areas. The troops are also expected to work with the police, South African Revenue Service and other government departments involved in crime-combating operations.
South African National Parks (SANParks) chief executive David Mabunda has said that 71 rhinos have been killed at SANParks reserves since the beginning of this year, while 333 rhino deaths were recorded last year. He said the army would help secure the border between South Africa and Mozambique, where poaching is rife. Bobelo said using soldiers to secure borders had proven effective. “Since the initial deployment of the soldiers our border lines seem to be safer than before. We believe that the crimes, including the smuggling of vehicles and live stock, have decreased,” said Bobelo.
He said about 6000 illegal immigrants from almost all the African countries and Asia had been arrested since the soldiers took over last year. Most of the items being smuggled from Mozambique included illegal cigarettes, illegal alcohol especially whiskey, illegal general goods, weapons and ammunitions and counterfeit clothes among others. “We have managed to stop most of the crimes and we hope with the additional troops all these types of crimes will be stopped,” said Bobelo.
Bobelo urged the troops, who deployed on Tuesday, to work with the different communities they have been dispatched to serve to ensure that the communities were safe and combat crime as many community members knew some of the criminals. He also warned them not to become involved in criminal activities. “Any criminal elements within the SANDF are condemned and cannot be condoned. If one force member commits a crime we won’t leave any stone unturned. We will arrest, send for prosecution and internally discipline our members,” Bobelo said.
He said those found guilty would be dismissed from the force. Local traditional leaders have supported to the addition of extra soldiers to patrol the border. “Since soldiers started patrolling the border, livestock smuggling has gone down and we are no longer experiencing immigrants who just show up overnight,” said Funky Shabangu, a delegate from the Mlambo tribal Authority in Mbuzini.
Shabangu said locals recently helped soldiers locate a large number of live stock that had been smuggled to Mozambique, BuaNews reported.