SANDF’s new border security proposal must be scrapped: DA


The Parliamentary opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party says believes that the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, should reject what it calls the defence force’s hopelessly inadequate proposal for taking over the borderline security function in South Africa.

The party’s shadow defence minister says the South African National Defence Force last week Wednesday briefed the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans on its plans to return to the country’s borders after a decision by Cabinet last November.

According to the briefing by the Chief of Joint Operations (J Ops), Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima and his Chief Director for Operations, Rear Admiral Philip Schöultz, the military will re-introduce foot- and standing patrols, observation and listening posts, vehicle control points, reaction force and follow up operations (to include the extended border area) and depth operations (“road blocks to a depth of 20km to the rear of the borderline in conjunction with the SAPS”) in addition to intelligence operations to collect information on illegal cross border activities.

Matanzima and Schöultz added the SANDF would return to the borders in a phased manner,starting with the Zimbabwean and Mozambican borders under “Operation Corona”. (The previous border security operation, that was to have wrapped up in March last year but was then extended t after this year’s soccer World Cup was codenamed “Intexo”.) One infantry company – 135 soldiers – are still deployed just to the east and west of Musina in Limpopo. Under Phase 1 of Corona – likely to start in April when the new government financial year kicks in – this force will be boosted to three companies as well as two engineer troops (platoons, about 30-40 soldiers each) to repair and maintain the Nabob fence.

In the second phase, a further four companies as well as an engineer squadron (company) will thicken deployments along the Zimbabwe and Mozambican frontier. During Phase 3,the number of deployed infantry companies will climb to 11 and deployments will begin along the Swazi and Lesotho borders. Phase 4 will see force levels climb to 14 infantry companies with deployments along the Free State and Eastern Cape boundaries with Lesotho. The police will continue their much-criticised border patrols until relieved by the military.

The J Ops briefers added that “in the main” bases transferred to the police since 2003 “are in good condition and only require refurbishment” of their water and sewerage systems as well as kitchens and messes. The bases include Pontdrift and Madimbo on the Zimbabwe border, Phalaborwa, Skukuza and Macadamia facing Mozambique, Zonstraal and Pongola as well as Piet Retief and Ndumo along the Swazi border and Himeville, Fouriesburg and Cedarville across from Lesotho.

The NABOB security fence along the Zimbabwe and Mozambican borders “requires major repair” as does sections of the border access road. In addition three former operational bases in the Kruger National Park are “no longer available” and communication infrastructure must be re-established. The SANDF will also need a new border patrol vehicle to replace worn-out 4×4 “bakkies” previously used in that role and now largely disposed of. Individual soldier equipment mus also be reviewed.
Cost and timelines

Indications are the border mission will be expensive: A provisional cost estimate for the Zimbabwean portion adds to R105 million a year. The costs are:

  • 3 Companies R75 million
  • 1 Reserve Force Company: R8 million
  • 1 Battalion headquarters: R2 million
  • Maintenance: NABOB fence: R14 million
  • Maintenance of four operational bases: R6 million

For the Mozambican and Swazi borders the provisional figures are:

  • 6 Companies R150 million
  • 2 Reserve Force Company: R16 million
  • 1 Battalion headquarters: R2 million
  • Maintenance: NABOB fence: R14 million
  • Maintenance of six operational bases: R12 million
  • Total: R194 million

For Lesotho the interim numbers are:

  • 4 Companies R100 million
  • 2 Reserve Force Company: R16 million
  • Maintenance of four operational bases: R8 million
  • Total: R124 million

To equip an infantry company with appropriate vehicles will cost R16 million, meaning a bill of R224 million for 14 companies. This includes the acquisition cost of a commercial-off-the-shelf vehicle, its modification for border security purposes and a maintenance contract. The communications equipment will cost R65 million over the four phases and three new bases must be built (two in the Eastern Cape and one in the Free State) at a cost of R36 million, taking the total cost of the proposal to R458 million.

Matanzima and Schöultz recommended the deployment of four companies, one each to Pontdrift and Beitbridge, facing Zimbabwe, Macadamia opposite Mozambique and Ndumo in northern KwaZulu-Natal. At a cost of R25 million each, the deployment will cost R100 million for the financial year to March 2011. They further recommended the expenditure of R8 million on communications infrastructure, R5 million on base repair, R7 million to mend fences and R15 million on vehicles.

DA worries

Maynier, however, worries that if the proposal is implemented there may be fewer security services personnel patrolling the borders with less money spent on borderline security and that, as a result “our borders could be less secure – not more secure – in the 2010/2011 Financial Year. This raises serious doubts about whether our borders will be properly protected during World Cup 2010.”

The DA MP says if one assumes that the police will be pulled back from the borders, then there will be fewer soldiers – 540 – on the borders in 2010 than there were police – 651 – on the borders in 2008; the defence force will spend less in 2010 – R135 million – than the police spent in 2009 – R225 million – on borderline security; and the South Africa/Namibia, South Africa/Botswana and South Africa/Lesotho borders will not be protected. “These numbers are hopelessly inadequate to secure the landward borders of South Africa,” he adds. “This is clearly a step backwards…”

The police last April told Parliament it had 77 officers on the Zimbabwe border “jointly deployed with the SANDF”, 221 on the Mozambique border, 207 facing Lesotho, and 146 opposite Swaziland. In addition, the police had “established permanent sea border control units at Richards Bay and Simon’s Town. Members are also deployed at Alexander Bay to execute an intervention operation along the West Coast, from Alexander Bay to Green River mouth. In terms of air border control, all provinces have trained members who are performing the function. The SA Police Service developed a Border Security Strategy and is successfully executing this strategy,” the law enforcement agency avered.

Comparing the figures, Maynier adds the numbers mean there will be approximately 3240 less soldiers patrolling SA’s borders in 2010 than there were in 1994; and about 1215 less soldiers patrolling the frontier this year than in 2001. “Moreover, in terms of the proposal we will have approximately 1350 fewer soldiers patrolling our borders in 2010 than the defence force would like to have patrolling our borders in 2014. In 2004, the National Intelligence Estimate reported that: ‘the single most important security challenge facing government on the domestic terrain is the state of security at borders and ports of entry into South Africa.’ The fact is that borderline security is a huge gaping hole in the national security of South Africa.
“The DA will therefore call on … Sisulu … to reject the proposal in its current form, and to find a way to deploy more soldiers more rapidly on the landward borders of South Africa.”

Freedom Front Plus defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald in a statement in Afrikaans today said it was a mistake to withdraw the SANDF from the border, “but the mistake is now being corrected.” The MP added the defence force was able to conduct border control cheaper and more effectively than the police. “Military personnel are specifically trained for patrol work and area protection and work 24 hours. Police do not receive this specialist training and demand overtime payment.” Groenewald added the difference in training would offset the reduction in body count from 651 to 540.

Analyst caution

Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman said the J Ops “concept plan makes sense within the limitations of funding and personnel availability.” He did, however have some concerns: “There does not appear to be any air plan. Is there no intention to draw on the Air Force for surveillance, reconnaissance and air transport?” Secondly, there “is no concept plan for the western borders at all. We cannot assume them to be safe. Certainly, if I were to want to smuggle something into SA, be it narcotics, weapons or whatever, I would simply drive over the western border where it is dry, or cross the river and meet a vehicle where it is wet. I would not even think of the northern and eastern borders where everybody has been focused for so long,” Heitman said. Thirdly, “there is no reference to the maritime border. I seem to remember the SAPS insisting that they would deal with that; to the extent that one officer even began pricing 85m patrol vessels. Is this now a Navy function – as it should be – and is the Navy actually being deployed? Or has this slipped through the cracks?”

Heitman was further concerned that the SANDF is already under-strength for its regional role “and is hopelessly under-funded.” The border function adds further pressure on both. Regarding the base facilities issue the former infantry officer recommended “tents as was done in the past”, or even by handling “the whole enterprise as a tactical training exercise and let the troops live in temporary bases as they patrol…”

A retired rear admiral previously tasked with border security issues added the “method or plan that the SANDF will implement, compared to police activities, is more important than [the] numbers… Is the SANDF able to ‘work smarter’ and be more effective than the police? If yes, then numbers are less important.”

A serving military officer continued that “the big issue is costs. With more money we can put more troops down. We have the troops, we don’t have the vehicles, bases, communications infrastructure and of course we need to make repairs to roads, fences etc.” The officer adds that in term of the current budget allocation it “will be several years before an effective system is back in place. …

The problem is we have to re-establish an entire system … with limited funds you can only do this incrementally.”

The admiral also challenged the DA to propose a “better more effective solution”, adding one must “beware of ‘knee jerk’ off-the-cuff reactions … rejecting a proposal based on money and numbers, is typical of a politician. What does Maynier really know about military or police matters? He is simply trying to score cheap political points.”

Pic: A section of the NABOB fence in better days. Under police supervision the fence has fallen into disuse and disrepair.


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