De Wet Potgieter’s comments on border patrol

Lowvelder reported a week ago on how the SANDF cooperates with vehicle-tracking companies to track down hijackers and car thieves, and about the successes against the ever-increasing smuggling operations on the border between South Africa and Mozambique.

Apart from counterfeit branded T-shirts, trainers and running shoes, Operation Corona’s border-protection soldiers also confiscated huge consignments of illegal cigarettes. The border area has become a “freeway” for criminal traffic as vehicles hijacked in South Africa and other contraband find their way into the hands of crime syndicates in the neighbouring country. Investigators, who managed to locate a lot of these stolen vehicles in Mozambique, being driven by Mozambican government officials, told Lowvelder that they were warned that their lives were in danger and they should leave the country immediately.

On the other hand, the Port of Maputo is a very convenient point of entry into Africa for drugs, other illegal merchandise, as well as for the thousands of shady, illegal migrants who merely take an unhindered walk over the stretched-out and dilapidated border area into South Africa. The national defence force’s border patrols may rightfully be proud of the more than R1,4 million worth of contraband seized so far this month, but this is, in reality a futile exercise and nothing more than window dressing by the government to keep the electorate happy. The military has no executive powers and all the confiscated material and culprits have to be handed over to the police in order to process the smugglers and illegals through the courts of law.

Soldiers are not allowed to arrest anybody, only to apprehend suspects, detain them and hand them over to the authorities. As a result of this frustrating situation, the SANDF operates border-patrol units without teeth and with no clear mandate. The border patrols operate in terms of a presidential decree as an interim measure to fill the gap since the police withdrew from border duty.

They have the capability and will to do the job, but with no firm mandate, and no indication what the future will hold, they cannot become a force to be reckoned with on the border. The military muscle does make a difference in the fight against the rhino poachers in the KNP, it should also be allowed to take charge, be given the proper authority, and secure our borders against the scourge of international crime syndicates.

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