SANDF Update on border safeguarding operations and cooperation with Border Management Agency; with Deputy Minister


25 May 2023
Chairperson: National Assembly (NA) – Mr V Xaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (the JSCD) convened virtually for an update by the South African Defence Force (SANDF) on border safeguarding operations, including successes, ongoing challenges and the impact of the use of technology on operations and on the level of cooperation with the newly formed Border Management Agency (BMA).

The serious underfunding of the Defence Force emerged as a constant concern from multiple presentations to the Committee by various divisions of the SANDF. The potential risk to national security that the lack of funding posed, motivated the Chairpersons of the Joint Intelligence and the Joint Defence Committees to approach the President directly. The Chairperson was pleased to announce that the matter was now receiving attention at the Presidential level and was hopeful that additional funding would be made available in the 2024/2025 financial year to adequately equip the Defence Force. Representatives of the SANDF present at the meeting received the positive news with enthusiasm and were encouraged about the prospect of being able to procure the much-needed technological surveillance equipment as a force multiplier in the form of sensors and radars.

The deployment of BMA Border Guards has been met with scepticism because the limited BMA budget would not be able to make an impact at the porous borders. The focus of the Border Guards is at the point of entry and does not have an effect on the SANDF area of operations. The SANDF called for a more robust approach by the government and proposed the acquisition of a portion of land along the borderline that would be exclusively under the control of the security cluster. Engagements on this topic with various stakeholders within the government had been positive and were ongoing.

Meeting report

The Chairperson remarked that his NCOP colleagues were busy with finalising a Bill in the House and would thereafter have a debate on Africa Day. He expected the Members to start joining this meeting shortly. He apologised for the one-hour delay to the start of the meeting. The apology from Minister Thandi Modise was recorded.

Lt Gen F.M Ramantswana, Chief of Staff, SANDF, said he was representing the Acting Secretary of Defence who was unable to attend after laying her daughter to rest.

The Chairperson conveyed his condolences to Dr Gamede and her family on behalf of the Committee.

Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla wanted assurance that the absence of Members from the sitting in the House would not be affected by this meeting.

The Chairperson replied that items that required voting were done and the motion in progress, to set up an oversight committee over the Ministry of Electricity, would get the full concurrence of the House.

President’s Correspondence

The Chairperson announced receipt of a letter from the President, titled ‘Decreasing Budget of Department of Defence’ dated 18 May 2023. The letter, addressed to the Chairperson of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Chairperson of the Joint Defence Committees, was read into the record by the Chairperson. In essence, the President undertook to start a budgetary process of reversing the decreasing trend in the budget allocation for the Department of Defence (DOD).

The Chairperson said the two committees took an unprecedented decision to write to the President detailing the diminishing capabilities of the Defence Force and the impact and consequences on national security. The letter detailed the areas of decline which were clearly visible and was informed by presentations that the DOD had made on several occasions. He was pleased that the matter was finally receiving attention. The two committees considered the impact from their different perspectives. The two angles are in harmony, pointing in one direction, i.e. the increasing threat to national security. The letter arose from the joint meeting between the two committees on Wednesday, 18 May 2023 subsequent to the meeting that the DOD convened with National Treasury (NT). He expected that within a month or two, NT would have signed a directive that the President was hinting at on this matter.

Mr S Marais (DA) sought clarity on whether the proposed meeting between the two Chairpersons and the Commander-in-Chief was still on the cards.

The Chairperson replied that the proposal for a meeting did not form part of the letter to the President. It was agreed that the President would know to contact on the matter. The first points of contact would be the Minister and the SANDF Command. Given that the information emanated from the Defence Force, the SANDF Command would reinforce what the two Chairpersons had tabled. The letter sufficed and further contact would be left to the President’s discretion.

Deputy Minister’s opening remarks
Deputy Minister Makwetla remarked that border safeguarding matters were still fresh in the minds of the Committee. The previous discussion with the oversight committee centred around the procurement of technology for border support. The presentation would be a repetition of previous discussions. He drew attention to the information in the Annual Performance Plan (APP) about unfunded border requirements, i.e. what is needed for border safety operations compared to what we have to protect the land border. Conservative estimates to replace the current fleet of armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were close to R2 billion while R6.2 billion was needed in terms of the blueprint. For example, the Air Force was in need of surveillance helicopters, while the SA Navy requires maritime surveillance aircraft and a radar system to monitor the coastal border. He found the idea of cooperation between the SANDF and BMA misleading because the BMA budget of around R600 million and the capability of the BMA would not be able to assist in making the borders less porous. He called on Parliament to assist Cabinet to nudge spending towards efforts to make the borders less porous.

The Chairperson observed that the Deputy Minister was introducing a different angle to the presentation, driven by the mandate and the budget required to tighten border control. This was in contrast to working within the highly inadequate resource envelope. The Department should consider the situation in view of the availability of technology, the resources needed, and the capability to execute the mandate insofar as border safeguarding is concerned. The tone was set by the Deputy Minister.

SANDF presentation
Lt Gen F.M Ramantswana, Chief of Staff, SANDF, said the Deputy Minister had expressed the view of the Department. He welcomed the good news from the President and was looking forward to the outcome of the proposed engagements with National Treasury and the SANDF Command.

Lt Gen S.L Sangweni, Chief of Joint Operations, SANDF, was pleased with the news regarding the funding situation. He was hopeful to see a difference in border safeguarding within the next two to three years. The information to be shared with the Committee is an update of the October 2022 presentation and a combination of the two agenda items. Developments and future plans include the improvement and domination of territorial waters through the acquisition of three new vessels. The first vessel would be deployed in 2023. Technology in the form of sensors and radars is being sourced as a force multiplier in the medium term. Areas of optimisation to mitigate capability shortcomings in terms of mobility, equipment, infrastructure and personnel include collaboration with various stakeholders, e.g. national and local government departments, community leaders and partners across the borderline. Work is underway to increase the deployment of technology through the acquisition of new technology systems.

Lt Gen S.L Sangweni indicated that in terms of the implementation protocol between the DOD and the BMA, the two entities are working together at the borders. A directive was issued to SANDF members on the borderline on the tactical interaction and cooperation with the BMA Border Guards at the border gates. The Border Guards are deployed at areas of operations inside the point of entry, within a 10-kilometre radius around the point of entry and at vulnerable community crossing points.

(See Presentation)


The Chairperson remarked that Lt Gen Sangweni is usually very careful and diplomatic but his frustration was evident in his comments, i.e. that resources are being optimised to mitigate capability shortcomings with the limited allocation received to support the procurement of technology. He expressed disappointment in the procurement failure within the Department that resulted in the inability to acquire the necessary technological equipment. He stated that the SANDF was working hard with dedication and discipline despite serious capability challenges. He proposed that the state follow a robust approach through the acquisition of a portion of land along the borderline which would serve as a restricted zone under the control of the security cluster. The Chairperson acknowledged that the SANDF, faced with all these challenges, would not be able to deliver on its mandate.

Lt Gen F.M Ramantswana said the border optimisation plan and the funding thereof were discussed during an interaction in April 2023. At the time, the SANDF requested the money as Special Defence Account (SDA) funding to assist with potential challenges in the procurement space. SDA funding would provide leverage to expedite procurement. He found it very difficult to make progress on the issue of servitude or the restricted zone, including fencing and roads, because these matters are dependent on the DPWI. Progress would only be possible through synergy in terms of an overall government approach. The initiatives by soldiers to get rid of the challenges are visible. The approach by National Treasury to not complicate matters in terms of funding is appreciated.

Mr Marais empathised with the soldiers for the challenging circumstances and working conditions. But he was disappointed that the presentation did not indicate specific proposals and initiatives to move forward. The money that was allocated for technology had been used for other purposes in year one. He enquired about the success of the SANDF in terms of the objectives to prevent and create deterrence, despite the surveillance shortcomings and other technologies. During the visit to the Waterkloof EXPO, he asked about the extent to which the SANDF would be more successful with 24/7 radar technology and observations. The money from National Treasury would assist as a force multiplier. He asked what kind of technology would be acquired with the SDA money. He wanted to know how many of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the Kruger National Park belonged to the Defence Force. He drew attention to allegations from some people in Lesotho who believed that some of the land belonged to them and should be returned. He asked if contingency plans were in place and if the SANDF was prepared for such an event. He sought clarity on the maritime operations which are stopped before the Northern Cape area and asked if that part of the border was not viewed as a threat. Reference is made to the sea border but not the coastal area which is larger than the land border. He noted only some vessels and no people on the inland coastline. He asked if the surveillance was covering only up to the high water mark, close to the land and if it included the exclusive economic zone and treaty areas. An increase in sub-units did not reflect in the medium-term budget. He asked how the unfunded expense to replace the APCs would be mitigated. He sought clarity about the sensor and radar technologies referred to in the presentation and if they would provide 24/7 observation and rapid response capability. Under optimisation, he did not get a sense of any improvement but rather of maintaining the status quo. He asked if the Jersey Barrier, which is a KwaZulu-Natal government initiative, would be duplicated in other areas. He proposed that a review of hotspots was needed and enquired about the SANDF recommendations in terms of strengthening the border fence. He wanted to hear how the SANDF intends to resolve the challenges and if there is a plan with measurable and implementable milestones that the Committee could assist with. 

Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) wanted to hear more about the force multiplier technologies. He enquired about the state of vehicles and other equipment used for border patrol and the maintenance of armament vehicles that are being used to protect the border. Referring to the comments about the cordial relations with the BMA, he asked if the BMA was having an impact and if they have lessened the responsibility of the SANDF.

Mr M Shelembe (DA) was concerned about the priorities of the Department regarding the protection of the border given that machinery of the Defence Force is being used to clear roads and build bridges. He questioned why work inside the country is being prioritised instead of patrolling the borders. He asked what Minister Zikalala’s perception was about the Jersey Barrier and if the barrier is only being used on the Mozambique-KZN border and whether it excludes the Zimbabwe border. He wanted to know if the border crossing by children from Swaziland to attend school in KZN has been resolved.

Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) asked why military veterans are not being provided with new cars to replace the old broken ones. He sought an explanation for the arms that were stolen from the camp in Richards Bay and wanted to know whether it has been recovered. He implied when opposition parties in Parliament refer to cadre deployment, they are targeting military veterans. But some military veterans go hungry. He was concerned that should the governing party lose the elections in 2024, the situation for military veterans would worsen under new leadership in a coalition government.

Lt Gen S.L Sangweni replied to Mr Shelembe that Minister Zikalala stated in public that the Jersey Barrier project would be rolled out where it is required. He trusts that the DPWI would consult with the SANDF for guidance in rolling out the project to the entire country. He said the issue of Swaziland school children coming to attend school in South Africa has not been resolved. The problem is broader because children from Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique are also coming to attend school in the North-West and Mpumalanga. However, the informal crossing is the responsibility of the Home Affairs Department. The Border Guards will only serve a purpose if the process is regulated by Home Affairs, similar to what was done ten years ago when Home Affairs issued permits to families who crossed the border. He explained that engineering equipment is required across the country. Because of the limited engineering capabilities, it is deployed wherever it is needed, e.g. after heavy floods. Infrastructure on the borderline is the responsibility of the DPWI. He replied to Mr Ryder that the state of the vehicles was no different from the previous presentation in October because the lack of resources was still prevalent. The current fleet of vehicles would be replaced with more robust vehicles with the funds allocated effective 2024. He agreed that the BMA guards were not making an impact in his area of operations because their focus is at the point of entry. In his response to Mr Marais, he said achievement can be measured at different levels. In his opinion, the SANDF has been successful in creating deterrence and stopping cross-border movement. He confirmed that technology would be a force multiplier because it would provide extended reach with sensors and radars, which he hoped would be deployed in the near future. He did not foresee a threat from Lesotho because it is a democratic kingdom. The patrol along the border is limited within the current resources. The SANDF did not have the resources to patrol along the entire border. The intention is to have 24/7 surveillance capabilities but until then the cooperation with SANPARKS at the Kruger National Park is assisting to maintain optimisation.

The Chairperson noted Mr Ryder’s request for more information about the state of equipment. He proposed a meeting with both the Army and Navy on the topic. He viewed it as important to keep a watchful eye on the issue of procurement and the ring-fenced expenditure items. The reason why no funds had been allocated for the current financial year is as a result of the failure to spend the allocated funds for the last two years. The money dedicated to technology was not spent due to procurement failure. He agreed that the division had been short-changed. R500 million was allocated for the procurement of vehicles and border technology in the 2024/25 financial year and R700 million for vehicle procurement in the two outer years. The Department must have a plan to monitor the spending of the new money. He did not think it was a solution to transfer the money to the SDA. It would please the Committee if the money were spent effectively and efficiently on the acquisition of equipment instead of having it in the SDA with no commitment to spend. The Committee is aware of the problems and assured the SANDF of its support in resolving the challenges. The definition of defence is the action of defending or resisting attack or the action to provide protection. If people do not feel protected or safe then there is no defence. He acknowledged that the Department has not been given adequate resources to fulfil its mandate. Maritime patrols are done for only six months of the year due to the unavailability of platforms. Only 15 of the 22 companies for border control purposes are in place, hence technology would be useful as a force multiplier. Unfortunately, the technology could not be acquired due to procurement failures. He urged the Department to use the available resources and to optimise the current fleet of equipment. The situation is bleak but he was pinning his hopes on the leadership of the country to rescue the situation.

Mr Motsamai requested a response to his question about the stolen arms at Richards Bay.

The Chairperson doubted that the Chief of Joint Operations would have information about stolen arms.

Lt Gen S.L Sangweni said the issue was not within his domain. Weapons were recovered and people were taken to court. He acknowledged the failures of not meeting targets which led to National Treasury not allocating funds for the current year. He undertook to invite the Committee either at the end of this year or early next year to demonstrate the new technology. The SANDF was working hard to achieve its objectives.

Lt Gen F.M Ramantswana said nothing was lost at Richards Bay. Mr Motsamai was probably referring to the 2019 matter to which the Chief of Joint Operations had responded.

Deputy Minister’s closing remarks
Deputy Minister Makwetla was satisfied that the responses covered his observations. It is understood that the plans of the Department must be aligned with the available resources. The public must be made aware of the importance of porous borders on the livelihood and safety of citizens. He was pleased that the Committee achieved something that had not been done before, i.e. getting the commitment from the Commander-in-Chief to correct the funding crisis. He congratulated the two chairpersons for the impact that they have created. The Chief of Staff and Joint Operations would relay the matter to the Military Command Council.

Actions and resolutions
The Chairperson replied to Mr Motsamai that the SANDF did not prepare for questions related to the issues of military veterans. He requested the Committee Secretary, Ms Nandipha Maxhegwana, to submit Mr Motsamai’s questions in writing for a written response from the Department.

The adoption of the minutes was deferred to the next meeting.

The Chairperson reminded Members of the meeting at 06:00 the next morning.

Mr Ryder cautioned that the German embassy opens at 08:30. He enquired about a central meeting point.

The Chairperson said the driver would start picking up Members in the village at around 06:30.

Dr Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, Committee Content Researcher, advised that the meeting was with TLS Services in Greenpoint and not at the German consulate.

International Study Tour
Dr Janse van Rensburg said Ms Maxhegwana was in the process of finalising the financial application for the study tour. Flights would be booked thereafter. He was in contact with the Military Attaché in Germany to whom a list of all the focus areas was sent. In return, the embassy wrote letters to various departments and role players in Germany. Members would be updated when feedback from Germany is received.

The meeting was adjourned.


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