THE SA National Defence Force recently returned to guarding the borders of South Africa after a decision by the government.
The decision is in line with section 18 (1) of the Defence Act 42 of 2002, which states that "in addition to the employment of the defence force by the president as contemplated in section 201 (2) of the Constitution, the president or ministers may authorise the employment of the defence force for service inside the Republic or in international waters in order to effect national border control".
On February 12 Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu approved the SANDF's return to the borderline in a phased approach with effect from April 1, with additional deployments of 1 x Infantry Company each planned in phase one for the Botswana-Zimbabwe-Limpopo border at Pontdrift, the Mozambique-Mpumalanga border at Macadamia and the Mozambique-KwaZulu-Natal border at Ndumo.
The SANDF border safeguarding strategy is one of a gradual return to borderline control within the context of the border management agency. The SA Police Service started scaling down their activities in the first week of last month.
The target date for the completion of the SANDF roll-out phase one was the end of last month.
Part of the plan was to introduce technological sensors as a force-multiplier to monitor even longer distances in a short space of time. Though this is an expensive technology, it is necessary for effective protection of the borders.
Operation Corona will also support Operation Kgwele, which has been developed specifically to ensure that South Africa hosts a free and secure Soccer World Cup tournament.
In this regard, the SANDF will work in close cooperation with all government departments involved to ensure optimal control of South African borders, not only before and during the World Cup, but also into the future, in execution of the mandate of the Defence Act.
"This is a major programme. The infrastructure is not the best it can be, the fence is not in a good state, we have more than 2000km land border we have to look after and that requires technology and human resources,"Sisulu said.
The SANDF is at present finalising an operational plan to ensure that it effectively secures the borders. This plan will be rolled out in phases due to budgetary constraints.
The return of the SANDF to border control, known as Operation Corona, has been received positively by the public.
This was evident during the defence portfolio committee's visit, the primary aim of which was to examine the conditions under which the SANDF redeploys to South Africa's borders.
Led by chairperson Mnyamezeli Booi, the portfolio committee took road trips along the borders at Zimbabwe-Musina (Limpopo), Mozambique-Macademia (Mpumalanga) and Mozambique Muzi (KwaZulu-Natal).
The portfolio committee members were confronted by challenges that lay ahead in the SANDF's return to borderline control. For example, the facilities around the borders are in a dire state.
The border fence is currently riddled with holes as a result of forced entry by illegal immigrants. Deployment quarters in some areas need to be renovated, and the limited number of patrol equipment is another area of concern for the SANDF as it resumes this duty.
Having seen the challenges faced by the SANDF, the parliamentary committee has committed itself to supporting the SANDF in dealing with its limitations.
South Africans living near these borders, especially farmers and farmworkers, are pleased with the SANDF's return to the borders.
They believe this will help resolve numerous criminal activities committed by illegal immigrants.
These criminal activities include trespassing, stock and car theft, damage to property and human trafficking.
"We are delighted to see the army back on the borders as this will help resolve the high level of crime committed by illegal immigrants that we face in this community," said Sibusiso Nkosi, a local resident in Pongola, on the border between South Africa and Mozambique.
A farmer also indicated that illegal immigrants often used farms as hiding places and stole a variety of valuables as they made their way to main roads leading to cities.
Sisulu went on to call on the communities along the borders to help in stopping criminal activities on the borders by reporting such cases to the authorities.
The chief of the SANDF, General Godfrey Ngwenya, has reiterated that they will work hard together with the communities to quell any potential threats to the territorial integrity of the people of South Africa.
Furthermore, the SANDF is engaging defence forces in neighbouring countries to ensure that there is coordination in dealing with cross-border offences.
The SANDF remains committed to fulfilling its constitutional obligation to defend the territorial integrity and people of South Africa. As the minister indicated: "We are ready to take on this task."
lThe writer is a specialist writer in the Department of Defence