Technological innovations are required if the SA National Defense Force (SANDF) border protection duties are to “improve” the work carried out under the Operation Corona mandate.
Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defense (JSCD), in the form of co-chair Cyril Xaba, said after last week’s meeting that the committee was “very aware of the serious capacity issues that are having a negative impact on South Africa’s territorial integrity”.
Another who is particularly concerned about the health and well-being of soldiers deployed in border patrol operations is General Rudzani Maphwanya.
In his first introduction to a US Department of Defense (DoD) annual report, the just released 2021/22 edition, the SANDF chief writes that the National Defense Forces “must maximize the potential of the 15 sub-units [companies] on the border by creating positive working conditions and an environment for our men and women in uniform”.
He continues: “Efforts must be made to clean up the infrastructure of Operation Corona in order to create decent conditions for our soldiers”.
For technology acquisition specifically for border protection, JSCD has been allocated R225 million in 2020 for use over three years. The R65 million allocated for the first year has been diverted and used to fight COVID-19. The allocation of R75 million for the second year (2021/22) went to what was described in a presentation as “improvements to facilities and critical PME (Prime Mission Equipment) requirements”, with the final tranche of R85 million went to unspecified “technology systems”.
A presentation by Chief Joint Operations, Lt Gen Siphiwe Sangweni to the JSCD revealed that “it is underway to introduce technology in the form of sensors and radar as a force multiplier in the medium term”.
The technology has been used for border security for a number of years, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) continue to be used. “New technology systems in the form of sensors and radar will be acquired for use at the border by next year (2023),” Sangweni’s presentation said.
According to a statement by the Parliamentary Communications Service, at least some acquisition problems are the result of a “protracted procurement” in which the JSCD is “urging” senior military leadership to work with the National Treasury to ensure this “ongoing problem” with soldiers before location is resolved whatever technology is acquired.
JSCD’s publicly elected officials maintain that the national defense forces must work with “related government departments at all levels” to address “infrastructure challenges.” These include poor fences, patrol roads and access roads.
Separately, but in line with the introduction of Maphwanya’s annual report, the JSCD would like “due attention” to be paid to soldiers’ morale, which is “negatively impacting operations”, emphasizing improved facilities.
The SA Army is the sole supplier of manpower for the land border component of Operation Corona, with regular and reserve units stationed in seven provinces with international borders. These are Limpopo (Zimbabwe), Mpumalanga (Mozambique), KwaZulu-Natal (Eswatini and Mozambique), Eastern Cape (Lesotho), Northern Cape (Namibia), Free State (Lesotho) and North-West (Botswana). Companies are deployed for a period of six months with three objectives.
These are intended to prevent “illegal cross-border movements of people, contraband, livestock, weapons, drugs and vehicles”; Detain undocumented migrants, criminals, illegal livestock, weapons, drugs, contraband and stolen vehicles and “create a deterrent against any possible threat of foreign aggression”.
In the second quarter of 2022 (July to September), SANDF soldiers in the Border Patrol Service arrested 3,730 undocumented people, seized 12.5 million Rand worth of contraband goods (alcohol, cigarettes, counterfeit clothing, etc.), drugs worth 5 million Rand, 15 guns, 484 stolen head of cattle and 66 stolen vehicles. One hundred and twenty-two criminals were arrested, Joint Operations statistics show.