Police never mastered border security: analysts


Defence analysts say the police never mastered nor took seriously their 2003 Cabinet mandate to take back borderline protection from the South African National Defence Force.

Institute for Security Studies Defence programme head Henri Boshoff says the research conducted by the ISS last year as well as a performance audit by the Auditor General (AG) on the Border Control and Police Advisory Council found “that the SAPS has failed to take over the function of borderline control from the SANDF.”

Cabinet this week reversed the 2003 decision.

Author and military analyst Helmoed-Römer agreed that the police “have signally failed to take the task seriously.”

Boshoff says the AG’s report found that the police never conducted a borderline-specific intelligence needs analysis “and therefore no specialised operational support structure for borderline-specific crime intelligence is in place.”

In addition the AG found “a lack of interdepartmental training and no all-inclusive borderline-specific training curriculum … in place.
“As far as human resources are concerned, there is an undercapacity of 71% (the proposed personnel structure is 970 members while the actual number is only 283). This means that the primary function of borderline-control cannot be effectively carried out.”

The AG also found no security analysis of the border fences had been performed. Places were found where border fences were inadequate or even non-existent, Boshoff said.

There were no “compensating” patrols or monitoring processes in place in areas where there are no or inadequate border fences.

The SANDF also came in for some criticism for not having “adhered to the exit-entry strategy that required them to hand over to the police all functional equipment utilised for borderline-control.”

Boshoff said the SANDF’s exit criteria were:

  • The police had filled “every possible vacuum” the SANDF had left as a result of their withdrawal from continuous support in ensuring urban, rural and borderline safety. 

  • The SANDF sustain the capacity, in accordance with an approved inter-departmental agreement, to support the police in joint crime combating operations where the police could not contain the situation on their own.

  • The SANDF sustain their command and control capacity as part of the JOINTS (Joint Operational Intelligence System, a command and control mechanism) to ensure joint command and control in support of the people of SA.

  • The SANDF maintain support to the SAPS regarding maritime and air borderline control function.

The police’s entry criteria were:

  • The police developing their capacity to take full responsibility for crime combating in urban and rural areas, as well as for the control of the landward borderline of SA.

  • The police maintaining their system of command and control through the JOINTS to coordinate all operational activities in support of the people of SA.

    To support this the police would

  • have the National Intervention Unit available as force multiplier across provincial boundaries whenever their support was requested. 

  • establish 43 area crime combating units inter alia capable of executing borderline duties

  • impliment sector policing.


The police would also gradually take over the borders from the SANDF, starting with the Namibian and Botswana borderlines – including the Rooibokkraal and Swartwater operational bases – in financial year (FY) 2004/5, followed by the Lesotho border in FY2006/7 (including the Ladybrand and Fouriesburg operational bases), the Mozambique and Swaziland borderlines, including Ndumu, Pongola, Zonstraal, Sandrivier and Macadamia operational bases in FY2007/8 and the Zimbabwe frontier including the Pondrift and Madimbo bases by March this year.

Boshoff says the decision to hand back the function to the military came in the run-up to this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup when it “became clear that the police would not be able take over the borderline function.”

“The decision came after it become clear from reports and analysis by research institutions like the ISS that the police had failed to effectively take over the role of the SANDF in borderline control,” Boshoff says.

Implementation, he says, will take a while, as the SANDF has to redeploy, get new equipment and start to build up intelligence, as well as command-and-control again.

“The return of the SANDF to the function of borderline control in isolation will also not be successful. It must be seen against the concept of border protection that includes border post, borderline and area protection.

“The implementation of area protection was based on the deployment of area protection units in the form of Commando units. They were disbanded between 2003 and 2008 and the function was supposed to have been taken over by sector policing.

“Reports and research indicates that this concept has also failed. It is unclear how that will be rectified,” he says.    

Heitman has welcomed the decision. “Border patrol and protection is a paramilitary task that requires the training, organisation and equipment that the Army has and the Police does not,” he says.

“It is also a good form of practical training in field routines, field craft, command and control, junior leadership, military management away from main bases, etc. An excellent preparation for peacekeeping and stabilization operations and from their for real ‘operations of war’,” he adds.

Heitman does, however, place three caveats on the military taking bak the task:

  • “The Army will need the money for the job – restore border bases, bring vehicles out of mothballs, conduct proper mission-specific training, fund deployment allowances, etc.

  • “We will need to be sure that we have the troops to do this and the PKO work”

  • “The Army will have to find a way to regain the local knowledge of the border areas lost when the Commandos were disbanded. Perhaps they need to find some way to draw them into the Reserve Force under a different system.”

“Looking further forward, we should probably think seriously about a gendarmerie or similar force,” adds Heitman. “I have been trying to sell that idea since 1985.”

Pi: The SA-Mozambique border in the Lebombo area. The sections railroad track is to prevent vehicle traffic, especially the movement of stolen ars and bakkies.