Free State border needs protection: DA

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The Democratic Alliance (DA) says the South African National Defence Force should resume border patrols along the country’s border with Lesotho sooner rather than later. Party defence spokesman avid Maynier says action should be taken to ensure that soldiers are deployed “as a matter of urgency” on the Free State frontier.

The SANDF will from Thursday resume limited border patrols. According to a briefing to Parliament last month, but apparently not by mid-March approved by defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu, priority will be given to the Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swazi border. Under the plan shared with Parliament, soldiers will only return to the Lesotho line after March next year.

Sisulu on March 12 told a media briefing on the planned activities this year of Cabinet’s International Cooperation Trade & Security cluster that she had been “informed by [the] Minister of Police that the farmers association would like to have a meeting with myself I am therefore urgently preparing to meet with them; and I will indicate to them … very directly … what steps we are taking to ensure that we can secure their border and stock from cross border raids which are common in the Lesotho border.”

Her spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya would not yesterday afternoon say whether she has since met Free State farmers or whether the SANDF’s deployment priorities have been altered to include the province. Maynier says the defence force will be responsible for conducting intelligence operations, mobile patrols, follow-up patrols and roadblocks along the landward borders as part of Opration Corona.

According to known existing planning one company will be deployed in the Free State after next March and two from April 2012. “There is however no provision in the proposal for erecting and repairing fencing; building and repairing roads; or the provision of an air surveillance capability to support soldiers on patrol along the borders,” Maynier argues. “The proposal is a step in the right direction but it is too little, too late and is hopelessly inadequate to secure the Free State/Lesotho border.”

Free State Agriculture, an agricultural union, as well as a number of border farmers last year took government to the High Court in Bloemfontein to compel it “to secure the national border…” In a bulky founding affidavit they allege there is a “lack of adequate security along the Lesotho-Free State border” and that this is having “a profound impact on the lives of farmers and their employees living in the area.” Farmers are complaining of stock, grazing, equipment and crop theft, poaching, illegal migration, drug smuggling and other crime. The document adds the problem stems from the lack of a border fence between the two states as well as a “lack of effective policing” in the affected area. The affidavit adds the union has been seeking to address both problems since “as early as 2001”.

It adds that in “a period of 7 years, since AgriSA and the first respondent [Free State Agriculture] began energetically engaging the respondents, nothing tangible has been done to solve the specific problem at the border. Even the relatively simple step of building an appropriate fence between Lesotho and the Free State between Wepener and Zastron has been repeatedly avoided by the respondents [various government departments, including defence, the police, public works and the provincial government]. In short, the high water-mark of the respondents’ attempt to deal with this problem has been to convene a series of meetings and to make a range of assurances, none of which has made a meaningful contribution to solving this problem.”

Researcher Jonny Steinberg in October 2005 wrote a paper on the dynamics of the Free State-Lesotho border on the eve of he withdrawal of the SANDF and the disbandment of commandos in the area. Published by the Institute for Security Studies, the paper noted that the majority of Lesotho and Free State people were Basotho with cross-border family networks. “If recent survey results are to be believed, the presence of the border is illegitimate in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Basotho citizens. Most believe either that Lesotho should be incorporated into South Africa, or that the Free State should be incorporated into Lesotho.
“Until 1963, there was no border control between Lesotho and South Africa. When it finally did emerge, the motivation was not to regulate the movement of goods or economically active people, but because of political animosity between the apartheid government and the new sovereign state of Lesotho. … Against this backdrop, several commentators have argued that the South African state has neither the capacity nor the moral authority to keep Lesotho’s citizens out of South Africa; that border controls between the two countries are bound to whittle away, whether de jure or merely in practice; that the raison d’etre for Lesotho’s sovereignty vanished at the end of apartheid, and that political incorporation into South Africa is inevitable – or at very least, highly desirable – in the long run.”

Steinberg also highlighted the difference in approach and perception between soldiers and police then deployed along the border. “The picture of his work the commanding officer painted was thus particularly bleak. … Indeed, on the same day we interviewed the SANDF company’s commanding officer, we spoke to the station commissioner at a police station in a border town in the Caledon Valley. The station commissioner’s jurisdiction encompassed a large swathe of the borderline itself. When we asked him how the presence of the borderline shapes his work, he told us bluntly that it didn’t. His overriding priority, he told us, which had been established at national level in the SAPS at the beginning of the financial year, was to cut the rate of contact crimes by 7%. A negligible proportion of his jurisdiction’s reported contact crimes occurred on the border. The vast majority occurred in the local central business district, township and informal settlement, on weekend evenings and in the days following payday. “The borderline,” he told us, “is simply not a major generator of serious crime in my jurisdiction.”
“It was a striking contrast. In a single day, we met two senior security officials along the borderline. The first believed with all sincerity that he was the last line of defence for a precarious way of life. The second did not believe there was much reason to mount a defence at all. The point of the story is to suggest that there is often a large discrepancy between a security agency’s understanding of the role it plays, and the actual effects of its presence.”

Steinberg also noted discrepancies regarding cross-border crime statistics. “One particular figure stood out: of the 156 South African farms along the borderline, 104 had been abandoned, mostly as a result of cattle- and grazing theft. These figures were not only shocking; they were so precise, so we took them for granted as true. Moreover, they were backed up by the public pronouncements of prominent organisations active in the area. … Yet we interviewed several farmers along the borderline over the following days and not a single one of them was aware of anyone who had abandoned a border farm because of crime. Almost all agreed that crime was a very serious problem. And most knew somebody who had abandoned farming, but because of tough market conditions, not crime. Indeed, several farmers pointed out that the fertility of the land along the river means that some border farms have high market values. Two farmers we interviewed had put border farms on the market within the previous 12 months, attracted considerable interest, and sold land without much trouble. Needless to say, this constitutes an extravagant contradiction to the claim that more than two-thirds of the farms along the borderline have been abandoned.
“We are not suggesting that grazing- and livestock theft are spectres invented by professional soldiers,” Steinberg said. “As the following section shows, the problem of theft is grave indeed. However, the story above does go to show that one’s profession is a powerful factor in shaping how one understands the border.”

Pic: DA MPs David Maynier (left) and James Lorimer along a section of the Lesotho border fence in July last year