The porosity of South Africa’s land borders along with a lack of resources to properly patrol them continues to make the country attractive to illegal immigrants and contraband smugglers.
Standing between them and other border jumpers such as vehicle hijackers is a thinly stretched camouflage line – the SA Army regulars and reserves deployed on the national border protection tasking known as Operation Corona.
There are 15 companies, called “sub-units” by politicians, currently deployed along the country’s borders with Botswana (1 969 km), Lesotho (1 106 km), Mozambique (496 km), Namibia (1 005 km), Swaziland (438 km) and Zimbabwe (230 km). In total soldiers on foot and in 4X4 vehicles, assisted by elements of the SA Air Force in the form of either A109 or Oryx helicopters, are tasked with ensuring territorial integrity over a distance of more than five thousand two hundred kilometres.
That this thin line managed to, among others, confiscate dagga valued conservatively at over R31 million between January 1 and December 12 as well as other contraband, mostly cigarettes, liquor, clothing and footwear worth close to R46 million in the same period, is testimony to the soldiers’ effort and sweat equity.
Other notable seizures were 3 177 head of livestock, mostly cattle and sheep; 60 weapons, mostly hunting rifles and handguns but also including an AK-47, and keeping R155 million worth of vehicles, mostly high-end SUVs, in South Africa.
Among the thousands of people stopped by soldiers during regular patrols, 15 467 were found to be “undocumented persons” in government terminology. They were all handed over to police and Department of Home Affairs officials for “further processing” according to Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton, Staff officer, Operational Communication at SANDF Joint Operations Division.
“We have done well with the resources at our disposal this year,” he said adding “the year is not over yet”.
The Christmas/New Year period is one where soldiers have in past years encountered larger numbers of smugglers carrying cigarettes, liquor and clothing destined for spaza shops and informal markets of Gauteng.
By far the majority of clothing and footwear was confiscated from people entering South Africa from Mozambique while the South Africa/Zimbabwe border is the main entry point for illegal cigarettes. Both these countries are also the departure point for almost all the undocumented people seeking entry to South Africa.
The Free State/Lesotho border was where the majority of livestock rustlers were apprehended and this border is also the chosen entry point of dagga smugglers.