Admin, fence hamper border control
Musina - Administrative problems and a massive fence riddled with holes are hampering monitoring of the Zimbabwean border, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said on Wednesday.
The fence had not been repaired since December because the company responsible for this had been liquidated, Lieutenant-Colonel Johan Herbst told Parliament's defence committee.
During an inspection of the fence, the committee found dozens of holes cut into the fence. Some holes were within metres of each other, others every few kilometres.
"This is not a fence anymore, it is a walk-through," said SANDF spokesperson Major Ronnie Maseko.
Herbst said the tendering process for a new contractor was still underway.
The defence committee will spend the next three days inspecting areas popular with illegal immigrants for gaining entry into the country.
These include Musina, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Komatipoort, Pongola, Ndumo and Farazella, along the borders of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland.
Saps took over border control
The military withdrew from the border over a year ago, when monitoring responsibilities were taken over by the SA Police Service (Saps).
The SANDF was redeployed to border areas this year, but maintains a fraction of its former presence.
The defence committee is ascertaining the extent of the additional demand the redeployment is placing on the military.
Members of Parliament were shown a hole the width of a man, cut through three layers of fencing and barbed wire.
One of them, in his 80s, walked through it to the Limpopo River with little difficulty.
Herbst said groups of Zimbabwean illegal immigrants, sometimes led by a human smuggler called a "gomma gomma", could cut their way through the border fence in 15 seconds.
While the fence was being maintained, it was electrified and would send an alarm to observation stations.
72 000 immigrants captured in 2007
Without these alarms, soldiers must now conduct foot patrols along the fence to check for illegal immigrants.
In the past, the military maintained up to 27 companies of 145 personnel each to monitor the 100km border with Zimbabwe.
In 2006, soldiers captured more than 72 000 illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border.
At the moment, the SANDF has only a single company on duty, but plans to increase this to 16 in coming months.
They are living in semi-permanent camps on private land with the permission of local farmers, because of a delay in the SAPS vacating the dedicated observation posts along the border.
Although Herbst described the decision to camp as tactical, this was dismissed by defence committee chairperson Mnyanezela Booi, after another MP expressed concern for their well-being and morale.
"I've seen a bigger place (the observation posts), so you can't tell me it's tactical," said Booi, adding: "The police are hanging around, and they are drinking. This is wrong."
Saps delaying handover
The police were to have handed over the observation posts at the end of the month, according to Herbst.
Chief of the SANDF General Godfrey Ngwenya appeared surprised that the military had yet to take over the observation posts.
"The question of why the police are staying here, I'll have to call the (police) commissioner about," said Ngwenya.
"If it is Saps that are delaying, then let it be told so that we can help," said Booi.
Earlier in the visit, Herbst described the police's continued presence on the border as a reality and said they would complement the military's deployment.
"We can never wish the Saps away. They are here. They have certain expertise and we have certain expertise," he said.