The Committee met virtually for presentations from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) on the operational status of ongoing missions, and from Netstar and Tracker on the challenges that they were encountering in dealing with vehicle smuggling and other criminal activities at South Africa’s borders.
The Committee encouraged more engagement and collaboration to help fight against border crimes. The figures presented were concerning, and the SANDF could not do the work alone without help from the private sector.
The SANDF said that the terrorist units had been dislodged from their bases and their strongholds in Mocimboa da Praia and Palma, which were now under the control of government forces. Questioned as to whether the terrorists had been forced to retreat, or were in hiding, which meant they could attack again, the SANDF responded that they had not determined the current situation, because it was not easy to get information, as the terrorists integrated with communities, and it was a possibility that they could attack again.
Netstar and Tracker briefed the Committee on the statistics of vehicle smuggling via South Africa’s land borders and how they have been using technology to fight border crimes. They strongly recommended greater use of technology to counter criminal activities. Members urged them to always reach out to the Committee and ask for assistance, because the work they were doing in trying to fight border crimes was of paramount importance for the country.
Overview of SANDF Operations
Lt Gen Lucky Sangweni, Chief of Joint Operations, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said that the terrorist group Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) had been perpetrating acts of terrorism and violent extremism in the north-eastern parts of the country, Cabo Delgado Province, since 2017. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) extraordinary summit of heads of state and governments held in Maputo on 23 June 2021, had approved a decision for a regional response and assistance to the Republic of Mozambique involving the deployment of a SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM).
The Committee was taken through the SANDF operations including Op Corona (border safeguarding), Op Chariot (humanitarian assistance and disaster management), Op Arabella (maritime and aeronautical search and rescue), Op Prosper (cooperation with SAPS), Op Mistral (UN stabilisation mission in the DRC), Op Vikela (SADC mission in Mozambique) and Op Copper (SADC anti-piracy and maritime security operation in the Mozambique Channel).
(See attached "SANDF Operations" document for details)
Presentation by Tracker
Mr Xoliswa Ngcobo, iOS Developer, Tracker Connect, said that Tracker was one of the foremost vehicle tracking companies in the country, with well over a million subscriptions and a quarter century of experience in vehicle tracking and telematics. Tracker had built up a strong, 24 year relationship with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and various industry stakeholders. Border safeguarding was a logical extension of the defence of the territorial integrity of the RSA borders. This included the recovery of stolen/hijacked vehicles smuggled across international borders. There was a natural relationship that existed between vehicle crime and other crime. This meant that private-public partnerships involving the SAPS and the SANDF in collaborative initiatives to address vehicle-related crime would have an indirect positive effect on also addressing other types of crime within the extended territory.
Members were taken through the highly differentiated relationships Tracker had with law enforcement agencies in SA and an overview of its operations.
Tracker said that stolen vehicles seldom left SA through conventional methods but through concealment on trucks, repackaged and stripped vehicles for reassembly in the destination country, hostage situations, in containers and through the Limpopo river.
Tracker viewed success in tempering and preventing border crime symbiotically. Technological expertise from the private sector paired with SAPS and SANDF resources act together as a force multiplier to tackle vehicle-related cross-border crime. There is a natural relationship that exists between vehicle crime and other crime. This means that private-public partnerships involving the SAPS and SANDF in collaborative initiatives to address vehicle-related crime will have the indirect positive effect on also addressing other types of crime within the extended territory.
(See attached "Tracker Presentation" document for details)
Mr Charles Morgan, Operations Executive, Netstar, briefed the Committee on how Netstar had been working as a private company to help curb border crimes, especially smuggling, and that in the Kozi Bay cross-border smuggling was via the fence line, and it was an ongoing problem. In Lebombo, it was also a high-risk area and the crossing of vehicles over the borderline at the port of entry happened on a regular basis. Netstar continued to work with the SANDF and SAPS crime forums in trying to combat the criminal activities, and had installed bush cameras on known routes used by smugglers, supported by air wing and ground forces.
(See attached "NETSTAR Presentation" document for details)
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) asked about cyber intelligence satellite mechanisms being used by the SANDF at the borders, and that maybe they had to look at installing other cameras and making use of drones to monitor the borders. He raised the matter of corruption by soldiers deployed at the border posts, and asked for a comment from Lt Gen Sangweni on how the SANDF was dealing with preventing corrupt activities. He suggested the use of smart cameras by the SANDF to combat criminal activities, adding that the Committee should be briefed on the state of the SANDF's equipment.
He wanted the Committee to provide more information on Operation Vikela, especially on the intelligence front, and on who was going to be funding the project. He also asked for a comment on Operation Vikela, because the media had been focused on Rwandan forces in Mozambique, and the SANDF was not being given a fair impression. Had the terrorists in Mozambique been totally disarmed, or were they moving in a certain direction towards other African countries?
He welcomed the presentations by Tracker and Netstar, and encouraged them to make use of the Committee and ask for assistance in carrying out their duties. He also encouraged engagement with other border forces to combat the problems being encountered, and suggested that more role players should be brought together to assist in the keeping the borders safe.
Ms T Legwase (ANC) asked Lt Gen Sangweni what the total cost of soldiers in the previous local government elections and on Operation Vikela had been. She wanted to know if there were sufficient and reliable aircraft, and asked about the issue of rotten food being fed to the soldiers in Mozambique.
The Chairperson suggested that it would be better if Netstar and Tracker would respond to questions first, then the SANDF would follow so that there would be enough time to engage.
Mr M Shelembe (DA) raised a concern over the amount of people coming into the country without proper documentation, and said a lot of these people were selling unlawful goods. Was the SANDF in any position to assist the officials to deal with this? Had the vehicles used by the SANDF been repaired? He asked for a comment on the walls that were being built, but the project was still ongoing, and wanted to know if the SANDF was being assisted by other departments. He also raised concern over soldiers that were working with criminals, especially in the smuggling of cars. What was the SANDF doing about the matter, because it was a serious offence and could cause serious damage to the economy?
The Chairperson thanked Members for the questions and urged the presenters to respond so that there would be an engagement on the matters that had been raised.
Mr Ngcobo said that Tracker was indeed looking for a collaborative process on how to work with the Committee on the use of technology. Technology was the best method to use in the fight against the hijacking of cars. The recovery rate of cars hijacked inside the country was made public, but in instances where the vehicles had crossed the border, it was difficult to determine the numbers. There was collaborative work between different sectors in trying to fight against the border crimes, but there were also some factors that influenced a slow process, because other service providers had their own requirements. The value of vehicles that had been recovered in the current financial year was R308 million. The figure did vary each year, but it did show the scale of vehicles being hijacked and taken out of the country.
Mr Ngcobo was of the view that there was a need for a workshop on how to deal with the technology so that the different players in the sector may share ideas on how to tackle the issues. Border crimes were not only centred on vehicle smuggling.
Mr Morgan echoed what Mr Ngcobo had said, and added that the South African Crime Insurance Bureau, as the central body representing insurance companies, had done a good job. There must be more engagements with the security forces cluster so that they could continue working together. Most vehicles that they recovered would have been stolen a few hours before, but for the ones that they did not recover it was difficult to know what had happened, because the vehicles might still be in the country and stripped of parts. There had been a good working relationship with other players, and they were looking forward to more engagements.
The Chairperson emphasised the importance of further engagements, because a once-off meeting would not solve the issues raised in the presentations. The Committee would look at how the way forward may be discussed and if there was a need to extend an invitation to other security players within the country so that they could share their ideas. The use of technology was welcome, because it was a step in the right direction to fight against border crimes.
Lt Gen Sangweni said that the SANDF appreciated the work being done by private companies when it came to dealing with the hijacking of cars which were being sold in neighbouring countries. He added that the SANDF was doing its best to deal with the border crimes, but they needed the assistance of the Committee to combat these crimes. There had been successful operations in the previous years, and the measures that they had taken were yielding results, especially when it came to using technology to fight border crimes.
The Chairperson thanked Lt Gen Sangweni for his comments, and commended the SANDF on the implementation of using technology.
He had asked if the deputy minister could give some comments on the deployment of soldiers on the borders, but due to network issues he could not connect at that time.
The Chairperson thanked the representatives from Netstar and Tracker for their engagement, and encouraged them to continue working with the Committee.
The Netstar and Tracker teams were excused from the meeting.
Lt Gen Sangweni responded to questions raised by Members, and said that the SANDF was still using assets that were integrated in 1994, and when there were problems, they repaired them.
The figures for the deployment of SANDF during the looting earlier this year and for the local government elections had been published in the media, and also provided to Parliament.
The SANDF did not have the as many aircraft as they would like to have for deployment, but what was available currently was sufficient to carry out their mandates.
He said that SADC member states had contributed assets to the deployment in Mozambique, and it was not only the SANDF that had contributed.
The media article about soldiers in Mozambique being fed rotten food was being taken seriously, and there was an ongoing enquiry. He added that there was no rotten food, but that one of the refrigerators with the rations that were served to soldiers had broken down, and this had led to the food going bad. The rations had been disposed of, and a medical team had carried out an assessment before the rations were destroyed, which meant that there was compliance on the part of the SANDF. The soldiers who were in the base during that period were provided fresh rations, and no one had been fed rotten food. He added that Members should read the article, as they would find that there were some issues that were raised about the commander withdrawing allowances, but this was not correct because there were procedures that were followed when paying allowances, and members had to sign on the schedule when they received their allowances. The report had not captured the details correctly. Soldiers were also getting bottled water for drinking, and for cooking and drinking they use potable water.
Lt Gen Sangweni commented that one of the issues affecting SANDF was that its vessels needed to be repaired so that they could be deployed on different missions. The fact that they were not fully working now, affected the missions.
From last year, the SANDF had started looking at how to use smart technology to combat border crimes, and had made a presentation to the National Treasury so that they could get ring-fenced funding for this in the hope that they would be able to fight crime more vigorously.
The SANDF was concerned and worried about the soldiers who were involved in corruption and criminal activities at the borders, and they were working on finding those who were corrupt. Recently, seven soldiers were arrested for assisting criminals to smuggle a stolen vehicle across the border. The SANDF would act harshly on perpetrators.
There was serviceable and non-serviceable equipment in the SANDF, and Denel was the major contributor when it came to making repairs, but its financial struggles had made it difficult to service the equipment. Funding constraints were also contributing to the problems, because it was so costly to repair the equipment that in some instances the equipment had to be replaced.
Lt Gen Sangweni said that the SANDF had solutions to prevent the high rate of illegal movements at the borders, and they were working with different stakeholders with new technology to assist them in monitoring the borders. Illegal migration had to be addressed by the security cluster so that solutions could be found.
Mr Ryder asked for a comment on the current situation of the terrorists in Mozambique -- if they had been forced to retreat, or were in hiding, which meant they could attack again.
Lt Gen Sangweni responded that they had not determined the current situation, because it was not easy to get information, as the terrorists integrated with communities and it was a possibility that they could attack again. The government of Mozambique was doing its best to normalise the situation through social integration and humanitarian programmes. There were several efforts to make sure that terrorists would find it difficult to attack people in Mozambique again, and even in the neighbouring countries.
The Chairperson thanked Lt Gen Sangweni for responding to the questions asked by Members, and said that the response had been informative.
Adoption of minutes
The minutes of 18 November 2021 were adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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