Community and soldiers discuss border challenges with minister

SANDF soldiers during a parade in honour of the defence minister's visit.

KOMATIPOORT –  South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members deployed at the Mozambican border and Mbuzini community members had the opportunity to talk to the minister of defence, Ms Nosiwe Mphisa-Nqakula, about challenges they face during a special event on May 3.

The minister conducted a site visit to SANDF members deployed as part of Operation Corona to protect the border and combat cross-border criminal activities.

READ: Cells overflow with illegal border crossers

Mphisa-Nqakula first visited the Macadamia Military Base and addressed the media before getting a bird’s-eye view of the Lebombo Border and borderline during a helicopter flight to Mbuzini. Here she visited Substation 9, where she engaged with the soldiers and later met with community members.

The minister hoped to alert South Africans about the SANDF’s border activities, successes and challenges.

The Mbuzini community expressed their concerns regarding trespassing along the border. They said they would like to have the gate that goes through to Mozambique opened to prevent people from entering the country illegally with illegal substances and weapons.

A local councillor, Mr Million Mahlalela, implored the government to deploy more soldiers to defend a larger part of the border and stated that they have built a relationship with the soldiers.

Minister of defence, Ms Nosiviwe Maphisa-Nqakula greets SANDF members stationed at Mbuzini.

Mphisa-Nqakula said she believed Operation Corona would have been more successful if the defence force had adequate resources. Currently only 15 of the 22 companies available have been deployed and more resources are needed.

She said although there were areas where there was no visible patrolling, the areas where a full complement has been deployed have seen major success stories such as a reduced number of rhino poaching and joint patrols, and law-enforcement efforts with other institutions.

The operations clerk, Private Sibusiso Ntshungwana, stated that they had arrested 206 undocumented immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mozambique and Swaziland to South Africa and seized contraband goods, dagga and stolen vehicles worth R10 million over the past two months.

Ntshungwana also mentioned that budget constraints have a huge impact on their operation, getting resources such as food supplies to these members and infrastructure along the border is a big challenge. She assured the minister that they have prioritised to ensure the safety of the country.

“We have a very long borderline and the only way we can protect South Africans from people going through those areas is when government makes resources available to us. Food supplies don’t reach people timeously because of our e-procurement system,” Ntshungwana said.

READ: Act of goodwill motivates local troops

In reply to some of the challenges presented to her, the minister stated that several have very little to do with the SANDF and more with other government departments.

“The Department of Public Works is responsible for infrastructure on the borderline. In the past it was well fenced and electrified. We need to have other ways of fencing to identify where the borderline is,” Mphisa-Nqakula explained.

In spite of these challenges, the minister said that they cooperate with the neighbouring countries to fight cross-border crimes. “There are liaison meetings between Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa to exchange information and engage in joint patrols. There is also great cooperation between the SANDF and the police. Our entire security cluster (defence, police, home affairs, customs) work very closely together and engage with other countries as that cluster.”

Nokwazi Thobela

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