MASERU – South Africa will deploy soldiers to man its porous borders with Lesotho.
There are also plans to construct a fence on the Free State province’s border with Lesotho.
The measures are meant to curb stock theft, illegal movement of people and livestock and smuggling of illegal as well as legal goods.
The soldiers will be deployed on April 1 to replace the 130 police officers who have been battling to control the borders between South Africa and Lesotho.
Soldiers from the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) are already patrolling South Africa’s borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Last year South African farmers along the border with Lesotho launched a court battle to compel their government to secure the borders.
The farmers cited President Jacob Zuma, Free State Premier Ace Magashule as well as various provincial and national state departments as respondents whom they accused of neglecting their responsibility of improving border security.
They complained about stock theft, illegal grazing and farm attacks which they alleged were being perpetrated by Basotho who illegally cross the borders.
Basotho, the Free State farmers alleged, were stealing their crops and smuggling marijuana to South Africa through their farms.
Basotho cattle that cross the border to graze on the South Africa side were spreading diseases especially foot and mouth, they further alleged.
There have also been clashes between Lesotho and South Africa communities that live on the border over stock theft.
And on numerous occasions these clashes have left some villagers dead or injured.
The 300 Free State farmers later agreed to drop their case after the government agreed to improve the border security.
The deployment of soldiers and the construction of the fence is part of the out-of-court deal that the farmers struck with the government.
Kobus Breytenbach, the deputy chairman of Agri SA’s safety and security committee, told defenceWeb, a South African security news website, this week that the government has already started giving farmers vouchers to buy wire, fence posts and other material to build the fence.
The project will cost about R5.5 million, according to Breytenbach. Breytenbach said some of the problems facing farmers along the border included farm attacks, vehicle theft, illegal grazing, drug smuggling and stock theft.
“We had farm attacks from foreigners. These people come across the border, commit a crime and then run across the border again,” Breytenbach said in an interview with defenceWeb this week.
“If you have a farm attack, that farm stands still for years and may be sold later. Stock theft is our biggest concern. There is not sufficient patrolling and that’s why we experience lots of stock theft and illegal grazing.”
He added: “People drive their cattle across the border to better grazing grounds but under current law, it is impossible to arrest or convict anyone for unauthorised grazing.
“There is no act regulating illegal grazing. My concern is we are going to spread animal disease if we don’t have proper border control.”
Breytenbach said: “They are crossing the border illegally e.g. in the Lesotho area…you get people who come into South Africa for medical treatment. They are a burden on the taxpayer. Even if you have criminals coming into town stealing vehicles…that is a financial burden to the economy of the region.”
“Lesotho is poor, that’s why these people are going across the border and engaging in crime.”
Breytenbach however admitted that the military patrols along the border would not entirely stop the illegal movement of people and animals across the border.
“The idea is to control the movement of people,” he says.
“The whole point is not to erect a fence like the Berlin Wall and completely stop people moving.”
Last month South Africa’s Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu told parliament that there had been a noticeable improvement on South Africa’s borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique since the deployment of soldiers.
“The SANDF has made noticeable achievements since its deployment to the borders.
“Farmers and business people along the borders have reported a drop in cross border crime, and a number of arrests have been made which have impacted heavily on syndicates trading in illegal goods and vehicle thefts,” Sisulu said.
There are currently 130 police officers working along South Africa’s border with Lesotho but they will be strengthened with the additional 150 officers before the army takes over next month.