South Africa’s border protection tasking Operation Corona will be boosted by two more companies in the current financial year.
This means Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has had the sums done and redone to ensure funding is found for another about 340 soldiers to be deployed on border protection duty.
According to the Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) presented during the National Budget earlier this year, the current deployment of 13 companies (called sub-units by National Treasury) was set to remain as is for the next three financial years.
This changed when Mapisa-Nqakula addressed the National Assembly last week during her budget vote debate.
“Demands for the services of the military are ever increasing. At home the defence force continues to deploy 13 companies for border safeguarding duties. These 13 companies must be expanded to 22 to execute the full border safeguarding requirement. Due to budgetary constraints we have not met this expanded requirement. It is our intention to expand this by an extra two companies in this financial year,” she told MPs.
Depending on which border soldiers have to patrol and safeguard, a company can be as many as 180 strong, including engineers and other specialist musterings.
As an example, soldiers deployed at Upington and tasked with patrolling the Namibia/South Africa border, will number more than those deployed at, say the Macadamia base on the Mozambique/South Africa border. This is because of better infrastructure at Macadamia to support the deployment.
The 13 companies are currently deployed along all South Africa’s landward borders – Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. At the time of publication there was no official word on where the additional soldiers would be deployed. A military source indicated Eastern Cape, which borders Lesotho, and KwaZulu-Natal, with borders to Mozambique and Swaziland, would “probably” be the selected deployment points.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), with the SA Army in the forefront, has been government’s go-to department for border protection since 2008/09 when this task was taken away from the SA Police Service. Elements of the SA Air Force, mostly helicopters, are also deployed to assist in border protection. In addition to border protection, soldiers deployed in the Kruger National Park assist rangers with anti-rhino poaching operations.
Another indication of the financial stress the South African military found itself in was given to MPs by the Minister during her budget vote address. She told the National Assembly that 17 refurbished operational ambulances, operated by the SA Military Health Services, were moved to various border protection areas to provide better medical services for soldiers.