Beitbridge border fence was up hardly a day before crooks struck — De Lille

Work on the Beitbridge border post with construction teams building the 1.8m-high fence which will span 20km on each side of the border post between SA from Zimbabwe. File picture.
Work on the Beitbridge border post with construction teams building the 1.8m-high fence which will span 20km on each side of the border post between SA from Zimbabwe. File picture.
Image: Supplied

The R37m fence at the Beitbridge border separating SA and Zimbabwe was hardly up a day before trespassers cut through it to smuggle in contraband.

And the presence of military personnel along the border has done little to repel desperate Zimbabweans and criminals from crossing over to this country.

“The fence was hardly up for one day and the crooks came through with cases of cigarettes and smuggling food, and all of that,” an exasperated Patricia de Lille told MPs on Monday.

The public works and infrastructure minister told MPs that the auditor-general confirmed on Thursday that he will investigate whether SA got value for money from the project and whether due processes were followed in appointing the contractor to erect the fence.

“But it's going to take longer due to the lockdown,” De Lille was told.

“What must be condemned in the strongest possible terms is the criminality that is taking place in our borders. The crooks are always one [step] ahead of us and where we were asked to replace the fence was specifically where they call it the hotspots.”

She said she asked defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on April 4, to make the SA national defence force available to patrol the fence regularly.

“Even that is not helping,” said De Lille.

“They are watching them. The SANDF is there on bikes, they drive up there, but the crooks just know where and when to strike. It is big problem at our borders that we need to address going into the future to make sure with the help of other countries, we secure the borders of SA,” she added.

It was the first time that a parliamentary committee discussed the controversial fence which was erected as a measure to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Smuggling between South Africa and Zimbabwe is rife in Musina, Limpopo. Zimbabweans, facing a dire food security situation, can no longer buy food in the town as the coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of the border to South Africa. Despite the erection of a R37 million fence, which was completed on April 20 2020, food is still regularly being smuggled into Zimbabwe.

The department's Batho Mokhothu said it was prudent to invoke the emergency procurement process that entailed the appointment of the required service providers through a negotiated procedure.

“The procurement strategy for nomination became the most suitable given the timeline provided by the directive,” he said referring to a directive issued by De Lille on March 16 for the emergency securing of the SA border posts, with the Beitbridge Border Post and identified hotspots at this borderline as the first areas of focus.

Mokhothu said it was important to note that the contract was premised on an existing contract of the Beitbridge border post, which was determined through a competitive bidding process and the bidder then had activities and rates that were determined through a competitive bidding process.

“These rates are considered scheduled rates and this contract that was used was baselined on the scheduled rates which were predetermined by the markets,” he said.

He said a comparison they did showed that if the scheduled rates were inflated by CPI at 4%, they would get a figure of R39m and if the baseline was escalated by contract price adjustment provisions (CPAP), the figure would be R38m.

The tender sum was R37m.

“This gives us the indication that we are within the market reasonability and in fact we are below CPI and we are below the contract price adjustment of CPAP,” said Mokhothu.

MPs were not convinced.

They want to visit the area and see first hand what is happening there.

DA MP Samantha Jane Graham also wanted to know the reasoning behind replicating a fence that was erected in 2007.

“Surely somebody should have determined that this fence doesn’t work and this border and others require a more suitable fence design where necessary,” she said.

The EFF's Mgcini Tshwaku wanted to know who did the quality checks and approved the work before payments were made. He also wanted a breakdown of the R37m cost.

The committee resolved to visit the borderline.


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