An over-stretched and under-funded defence force stands ready to assist when the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) asks for help in implementing control measures to safeguard South Africa from an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD).
Speaking in Pretoria earlier this week, DAFF Minister Senzeni Zokwana said government will “vigorously” implement measures to ensure South Africa’s FMD free zones remain disease-free, ensuring livestock products can be exported.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had, at the time of publication, not received a request for assistance from DAFF for Operation Compliance, its FMD containment programme drawn up to maintain free zone status as defined by the World Organisation for Animal Health. “When the request comes it will be dealt with and the necessary instructions issued,” Captain (SAN) Jaco Theunissen of SANDF Joint Operations said adding the tasking would “in all probability” be added to the list of Operation Corona duties.
Operation Corona is the border protection tasking the SANDF inherited from the SA Police Service six years ago compliments of a Cabinet decision. There are currently 13 companies deployed on border protection across all South Africa’s landward borders but the FMD tasking will only be added to the duty list of soldiers deployed as part of Operation Corona in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
Zokwana said improvement and more regular inspections of South Africa’s border fence with Zimbabwe was one of eight priorities for Operation Compliance. While the status of border fencing is not the responsibility of the SANDF, soldiers on patrol do report breaks and other damage.
“As always the SANDF is ready to assist other government departments when it comes to protecting South African sovereignty, even where it concerns food safety and the national agricultural sector,” Theunissen said.
FMD is not defined as a deadly disease but it can cause severe production losses and once introduced in a cloven-hoofed livestock herd becomes difficult and costly to eliminate. Buffalo are also susceptible to the disease.