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Borderline Policing

During the 1980s, South Africa enforced border controls against illegal refugees and guerrilla infiltration by installing electrified fences, especially along its northeastern border. In 1985, for example, it installed 2,800-volt fences along portions of its borders with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Lesotho, and with the homelands of Bophuthatswana, Transkei, and Venda. During 1988, the first year of available records, at least seventy people were electrocuted on these fences.

Presently, the borderline policing function is divided into three areas, namely land borderline control,sea borderline control and air borderline. In South Africa the leading institutions involved in border post control are the Department of Home Affairs, which control the entry and departure of people; A Customs and Excise division of the South African Revenue Services (SARS) which controls the import and export of goods; and the Border Police, responsible for policing South Africa’s international borders. The South African Police also perform functions for Home Affairs with regards to immigration and for the SARS in the roles of Customs and Excise.

The paramount duty of the Department of Defence and Military Veterans is to defend the borders and the people of South Africa. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is responsible for border protection, which is defined as ‘the protection of the international borders of the RSA against hostile attacks and actions’. Securing territorial integrity is at the center of the mandate of the Defence Force. Meaningful safeguarding involves not only the deployment of soldiers, but border-fence construction and maintenance across the perimeter of the Republic. This task warrants convincing financial commitment.

Border safeguarding must be viewed and managed as a priority function of the SANDF in relation to its mandate to protect and defend the Republic, its sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests and people, in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force. Consequently, the SANDF must structure, budget for and develop capabilities to execute the full spectrum of border safeguarding. The SANDF military strategy and Force employment planning must be adjusted to meet this priority.

The SANDF`s predecessor, the SA Defence Force, gradually took over borderline control from the police from 1987 as guerrilla activities across the border escalated. At the same time more police were needed in the townships, then seething with anti-apartheid unrest. In the Interim Constitution of 1993, borderline functions were again allocated to the South African Police Service (SAPS). However, with the sharp rise in crime in the country and the subsequent extra burden this placed on the police, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was placed in service by the president to assist and support the SAPS with crime prevention, including assistance in borderline security. As a result, the SANDF had a strong presence with 28 infantry companies and five aircraft deployed on the international borders of South Africa by 2001.

Despite the weak fence, the SANDF prioritised the Mozambican and Zimbabwean borders as ‘priority one’ borders for controlling the influx of people and goods. South Africa’s borders with Lesotho and Swaziland are classified as ‘priority two’, while the borders with Botswana and Namibia are ‘priority three’. Borders classified as priority one and priority two are patrolled, whilst priority three borders are unprotected. By July 2002 fewer than 1,000 soldiers patrolled South Africa’s land borders.

During the 2003 Cabinet Lekgotla, a decision had been taken to transfer the responsibility forborderline control from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to the SAPS. Stemming from this, the SANDF Exit/SAPS Entry Strategy was formulated, which was implemented from 2004 to 2009.

Since 2005 several measures have been put in place to strengthen borderline control, which included the continuous assessment of cross-border movement and visits to farms and schools along the borderlines. The aim was to gather information about illegal activities and to ensure that farmers along the borders attended local meetings where they were offered the opportunity to share any information related to criminal activities along the borders.

In 2008/2009 the SAPS procured and deployed four 4x4 vehicles, night-sight apparatus,binoculars, global positioning systems and communication systems for borderline functions. Borderline Operations were deploying horses along the borders of the Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. The deployment of horses would increase police visibility, as well as reaction time to stock theft.

By February 2009 the South African National Defence Force was winding up its long-running Operation Intexo, in terms of which it was responsible for borderline control. SANDF would continue to support the police as well under the rubric Operation Prosper. The transfer of the borderline control function from the SANDF was concluded on 31 March 2009 with the taking over of the borderline function at two operational bases at the Limpopo border with Zimbabwe. The SAPS is now deploying members at the Swartwater, Rooibokkraal, Pontdrift, Beitbridge, Musina and Madimbo bases in this province. Challenges in the taking over of these borderline functions were the substantial number of people crossing the borderline, the poor maintenance of the Norex fence between the two countries and the presence of protected wildlife along the borderline.

In November 2009, Cabinet approved the employment of the SANDF for the full spectrum of bordersafeguarding services inside South Africa and in international waters. The cabinet reversed the 2003 decision to return the borderline control to SAPS. The operationalisation of the above Cabinet instruction was effected through the issuing of the Ministerial Employment Notice no 1 of 2010 whereby the SANDF is employed in terms of Section 18 (1) (d) of the Defence Act for service inside the RSA and international waters. In 2010 the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) returned to the borders to take over patrol as part of the new Cabinet approved South African National Border Management Agency. The SANDF returned to the border in phases due to shortage of funds and in line with government budgeting processes funds will start being made available. SANDF returned to protect the South Africa border with Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, and from April 1, 2011, it returned to guard the South Africa and Lesotho border.

This is a major program, the infrastructure is not the best it can be, the fence was not in a good state, there is a 2000m long, land border to look after and that requires both financial, technology and human resources. When the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) resumed their border patrol in earnest, more than few things were no longer in a condition they left in 1998. Their 11 years absence from the borders had opened up a lee way for many illegal activities which include the influx of illegal immigrants, smuggling of cars, livestock and human and drug trafficking. The roads were no longer in good condition, the razor wire fence was scaled down by illegal immigrants hankering for asylum in the country.

More than 5000 SANDF members were redeployed in the border that include Pontdrift and Beitbridge, facing Zimbabwe, Macadamia, opposite Mozambique and Ndumo in Northern KwaZulu-Natal at a cost of R25 million each. Among their strategic plans, they reintroduced foot and standing patrols, observations and listening posts, vehicles control points, reaction force and follow up operations to include the extended border area and depth operations. The strategic patrol plan also includes road blocks to the depth of about 20km to the rear of the borderline in conjunctions with the SAPS.

On 19 February 2012 Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe announced that South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members, working in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, would be deployed to various borders in an effort to strengthen borderline security. "Effective border management is part of the government crime prevention strategy, which assists to deal with cross-border crime syndicates and curb poaching," he said. Speaking at the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster media briefing, Radebe said the SANDF deployment of forces continues in a phased approach working with other government role players, the Police, South African Revenue Service (SARS) as well as departments of Home Affairs, Tourism, Public Works, Transport, Health, State Security and Agriculture. To date, Radebe said seven military companies had deployed, adding that four more additional companies will be deployed in April on the Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho border and this will bring the total number of deployed companies to 11. "The deployment includes army engineers who are conducting repairs and maintenance on the Zimbabwe / Mozambique border fence (approximately 140KMs)."

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:57:05 ZULU