ATC210325: Report of the oversight visit of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and the Portfolio Committee on Defence And Military Veterans To Selected Military Bases in Gauteng and to Selected Landline Borders over the Period 27 to 29 November 2020, dated 11 February 2021 and 18 March 2021
REPORT OF THE OVERSIGHT VISIT OF THE JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE AND THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE AND MILITARY VETERANS TO SELECTED MILITARY BASES IN GAUTENG AND TO SELECTED LANDLINE BORDERS OVER THE PERIOD 27 TO 29 NOVEMBER 2020, DATED 11 FEBRUARY 2021 AND 18 MARCH 2021
The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) and the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCODMV) arranged an oversight visit to 1 Military Hospital, the SA Army Main Ordnance Sub-depot Wallmansthal (MOSDW), Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof, and three landline border sites over the period on 27 to 29 November 2020. This formed part of the execution of the Committee’s oversight responsibilities over the Department of Defence.
- Primary aim of the Oversight Visit
The primary aim of the Oversight visit was for the Defence Committees to conduct oversight visits to 1 Military Hospital, the SA Army Main Ordnance Sub-depot Wallmansthal (MOSDW) and to be briefed by AFB Waterkloof on the conditions at their military bases. It was also to familiarise Committee Members with the conditions at the three military bases, and especially circumstances under which our soldiers are deployed as part of Operation Corona, along South Africa’s landline borders. The latter was necessitated due to the various challenges on our landline borders that have been reported in the media, but especially by the SANDF, during briefings to the Defence Committees.
1.2 Defence Committee Members and Support Staff
The Delegation comprised of the following:
Members of the Defence Committees:
African National Congress
Mr ME Nchabeleng (Co-chairperson – NCOP)
Mr VC Xaba (Co-chairperson – NA)
Ms AJ Beukes
Ms M Modise
Ms M Bartlett
Ms NE Nkosi
Ms Alice Mthembu
Mr SJF Marais
Mr ML Shelembe
Economic Freedom Fighters
Mr TWI Mafanya
Mr K Motsamai
Peter Daniels - Content Advisor
Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg - Researcher
Bryan Mantyi - Delegation Secretary
Gunter Mankay - Committee Assistant
On Friday, the 27th November 2020, the Delegation visited 1 Military Hospital, after which it conducted a site visit at the SA Army Main Ordnance Sub-depot. On Saturday, 28th November 2020, it was briefed by the leadership of AFB Waterkloof on the various aspects requested by the Defence Committees. After initial delays, the Delegation was flown to the Musina Airstrip to conduct a site visit to the landline border between South Africa and Zimbabwe around the Beit Bridge area. The Delegation was subsequently flown to Malalane airstrip where it received a briefing at a facility at the Lebombo Border post near Komati Poort. On the 29th of November 2020, the Delegation was taken to two posts the Lebombo Border Post along the Mozambican border, where our soldiers are deployed. Subsequently, the Delegation was flown to Kosi Bay airstrip and taken by an Oryx SA Air Force helicopter to the border posts where SANDF soldiers are deployed, and later flown to Richards Bay Airport to depart for AFB Waterkloof.
2. OVERSIGHT VISIT TO 1 MILITARY HOSPITAL ON 27 NOVEMBER 2020
The Delegation was transported from OR Tambo International to 1 Military Hospital, in Thaba Tshwane where it was welcomed by its General Officer Commanding (GOC), Brig Gen N Skosana and his command team. The Surgeon-General, Lt Gen Dubula, also addressed the Delegation and expressed his appreciation for the oversight visit.
Opening remarks by the Co-chairperson, Mr VC Xaba
The Co-chairperson explained the composition of the Delegation, stressing that it is a combined committee of the two houses. The expectation was to visit the site as a prime SA Military health institution. The idea was to see and get to know the challenges facing the Unit as some of these originated in previous parliaments and it wanted to be updated on whether there was progress and where stagnation took place, specifically around the refurbishment projects at the Hospital. The oversight visit was also a learning session for Delegation and, going forward, it will be able to relate briefings at Parliament with the conditions it witnessed at the Unit.
Brig Gen Skosana highlighted the following in his presentation regarding 1 Military Hospital: mandate, update on Repair and Maintenance Programme (RAMP), DPWI activities, outsourcing, challenges and achievements. Specifically, the following was shared with the Delegation:
- Constraints: It was indicated that some of the questions around the RAMP, could not be fully responded to at the level of the unit, as it resorts under the Logistics Division through the Defence Works Formation (DWF) who is the custodian of the RAMP and other the Defence facilities. Outsourcing of services was referred to in general rather than outlining specific cases to cover the perception and the experiences over a period of time.
- Mandate: The Unit is primarily mandated to provide a specialist health service to develop and maintain military health capabilities of the SANDF. The mandate is executed with the expressed purpose of providing Combat-ready military health forces and provide an Executive Military Health Support Service to the President of the Republic of South Africa. The secondary mandate of 1 Military Hospital is to provide health support to other approved clientele i.e. being utilised as a level 4 hospital for the United Nations and Southern African Development Community VIP’s.
- RAMP: Maj Gen Ledwaba, the GOC DWF, explained that theRAMP started in 2006 and terminated in 2015, and this was due to the disputes between the DOD and DPWI wrt the projects that led to the DOD taking over the 1st floor project together with the DPWI appointed consultants. The scope of the project was inadequate and therefore the DOD is in a process of applying for a deviation from National Treasury to accommodate the changed scope. Because of the budget cuts, the outstanding work that DPWI could not complete during the RAMP will remain a challenge to complete. Although the RAMP is terminated the entire hospital still requires repair and maintenance which the DOD intends to start once funding is available. He stressed that the Total Facility Management (TFM) initiative in cooperation with the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) is very successful, as it does not only save money, but it is also ensuring that breakages, damages, etc are repaired speedily. The DBSA is project-managing the TFM, and also assists DWF artisans to get their practical experience and to be registered with the relevant professional body upon qualification and adherence to the requisite criteria.
- ICU (COVID-19) floor: This project was completed and already commissioned by the Minister on 19 October 2020. The entire project’s details were also handled by the SANDF’s Logistics Division and managed by the Defence Works Formation. The unit as the end-user of the facility was requested during the project to second personnel to advise on issues like equipment preferences based on already utilised service providers. This was to allow for the speedy utilisation of the completed facility and ease of access to consumables needed. They believed that it would not be contradictory to state that this project was well managed and delivered the 7th floor on time with a 5-year maintenance plan. The processes followed enhanced their belief that this model for the facility rehabilitation is a far a better option by far.
- Outsourcing of services: Outsourcing is mainly used as a cost-saving strategy. While this is done primarily by the private and public sectors, military organisations are increasingly using outsourcing as a better option. The SAMHS did not outsource healthcare services as a cost-saving strategy, but mainly because of a lack of resources and specialised skills to carry out its duties. Various resource management challenges hinder the provision of an all-inclusive medical service and compels 1 Military Hospital to outsource certain healthcare services that are either not available or cannot be provided for in-house at a high cost to the SANDF and the state. Some of the reasons for outsourcing, relate to the loss of personnel with work experience and specialist skills, a lack of equipment, budget cuts or finance, and the hospital infrastructure which has been negatively affected by the RAMP project that remains unfinished after 14 years. The infrastructure refers specifically to the 1st floor revamp which houses the nucleus of the health care service system of 1 Military hospital hence the outsourcing.
- Achievements: These includethe completion and commission of the 7th floor as an isolation facility with ICU and High-care with renal unit capabilities, as well as the subcontracting of the DBSA to project manage the Total Facility Management of the hospital.
- Challenges: The Unit consumes most of the SAMHS budget due to the outsourcing of healthcare services resulting from inadequate infrastructure and shortage of critical resources required for the provision of healthcare services. The SAMHS emphasised problems with the suppliers that are sourced by DPWI, with substandard construction work being some of the recurring problems. Another challenge relates to the failure to manage resources properly which results in poor quality service delivery and increases in client dissatisfaction.
- Recommendations: The Unit recommends that the refurbishment of the 1 Military Hospital should be completed with immediate effect. Also, the challenges at the Unit have to do with command line management deficiencies, it is therefore recommended that managers placed in managerial positions at all levels in the organisation should possess a management qualification, skills knowledge, and experience.
2.2 Observations by Committee Members
- The Delegation commended the newly build ICU/Covid-19 isolation ward, which is fitted with medical equipment which meets international medical standards.
- It was observed that the RAMP requires around R1bn to be completed and it was questioned whether the technology acquired would still have value when the RAMP is completed.
- One of the main concerns regarding the delays to complete the RAMP is the situation around the 1st floor of the hospital. The floor should host the new pharmacy, the radiology section, and emergency theatres. The absence of these facilities compound the dire situation at the hospital.
- The GOC DWF explained that the money in dispute relate to the municipal services which the DWF has taken over and where many discrepancies have been discovered. These discoveries led the DOD to incur savings on these services, which DPWI did not appreciate. He also listed various examples such as the water system with leaking pipes, leaking roofs, highlighting the inadequacies of the DPWI system.
- The Delegation enquired about the retention strategy of the artisans trained by DWF, and whether this was effective. It was indicated that the training of professionals is being conducted in partnership with the DBSA and that so far this has reaped the necessary benefits. Outside of this project, the normal DOD Human Resources stipulations apply.
- One of the main concerns was that DPWI has only spent around 41% of the funds allocated to them to service the DOD over the past 5 years. This despite attempts by the DOD to try to manage the serviced that DPWI render, but who continues as they did without any apparent Consequence Management or punitive measures.
3. OVERSIGHT VISIT: SA ARMY MAIN ORDNANCE SUB-DEPOT WALLMANSTHAL ON 27 NOVEMBER 2020
The oversight visit to the SA Army Main Ordnance Sub-depot Wallmansthal (MOSDW) which used to be called 4 Vehicle Reserve Park (4VRP), was conducted after the site visit to 1 Military Hospital. The Delegation was welcomed by Brig Gen Stroebel and the presentation was done by Lt Col M.W. Antonio, the Officer Commanding. The Co-chairperson, Mr Nchabeleng, explained the purpose of the oversight visit and indicated that due to time constraints if all the questions were not answered, it should be responded to in writing. He requested that they proceed with the presentation.
Lt Col Antonio’s presentation focuses on the following issues:
- Operation Thusano. She explained that the purpose of this joint effort between the SANDF and the Cuban military was to overhaul technical support teams of the SANDF and to ensure that its internal capacity is revived. Funds for the project is committed to ensure that the objectives are fulfilled, therefore the performance of the project must be monitored and credible feedback must be given to Chief Logistics and be integrated into quarterly reports. The Cuban leader group together with South Africans have the responsibility to ensure that there is optimal performance and sound management of the workshops. Overall, the idea is to develop a system that will ensure efficiency and effectiveness to maintain the organisational Prime Mission Equipment (PME) without relying on industry.
- Mandate: Its mandate is to deactivate and dismantle PME vehicles which were declared beyond economical repair (BER), to harvest components from the BER vehicles to be back loaded to the SA Army Main Ordnance Depot to be re-used on other vehicles that require them.She also indicated that there are no operational financial implications associated with Operation Thusano at the MOSDW, except the provision of a stipend R3 376 per technician per month.
- Skills transfer to SANDF members: Currently there are 12 SANDF membersassigned to work with Cuban specialists on disarming and preservation at the Unit. This group is composed of five artisans and seven apprentices.
- Processes and procedures: Assoon as the dismantling process is completed the serviceable parts are written back to the Army Main Ordnance Depot, while the unserviceable parts are written back to the Regional Works Unit Gauteng for refurbishment. When these parts are available on the shelves, units can demand such spares for repairs of vehicles. The scrap metal that remains after this process, is sold off by Armscor and the funds thus generated paid into the B7 Account.
- Achievements: At least 42 vehicles that have been dismantled with another 50 being the next batch to be dismantled. Regular meetings are also being held with the relevant stakeholders to monitor progress. The work ethics of the Cuban specialists and the SANDF component, was also viewed as a positive factor.
- Challenges:Regardingthe Computer Aided Logistic Management Information System (CALMIS), these include cable theft, a slow running system, and thee day a week availability. There is also a shortage of specialised equipment in the workshops such as an alternator tester, starter tester and a machine for air valves and air tools.
3.2 Observations by Committee Members
- The Delegation was concerned about the limited scope of the presentation, given that it expected a broader update report on Project Thusano. It was indicated that the assumption was that the General Officer Commanding would brief the Defence Committees on Operation Thusano, and the selected site was only for the Delegation to see the actual activities.
- It was concerned that only the dismantling of vehicles was done by the unit and questioned why Cuban involvement is required in such a mundane process. This against the background that the Cubans were mostly responsible for the repair, maintenance and preservation of military vehicles.
- Given that reference was only made to twelve SANDF members are being trained, the Delegation enquired about the time period and the total number of SANDF members. It was indicated that the numbers were only for the unit and that more members are involved in Operation Thusano around the country.
- Questions were also raised about the kind of qualification and the related NQF level, if any, that SANDF members receive when qualified.
- The area surrounding the unit was subject to land claims and questions around it solicited the response that this has been finalised but that they are experiencing certain security challenges given the proximity of the community members.
- The Delegation expressed its concern around the lack of proper functioning water and electricity systems and resolved to take this matter up with the SANDF leadership. The fact that the Unit was going without running water and electricity for months was lamented by the Delegation, as such hygiene factors can and do impact on the morale of soldiers. The Delegation also found it degrading that soldiers have to carry water in buckets when they utilise the toilets.
- Having been briefed regarding the recurring acts of vandalism and theft of cables and water pipes, the Delegation expressed concern regarding the security of the base.
Mr VC Xaba thanked Brig Gen Stroebel for accommodating the Delegation and stated that more information was expected but that this will be taken up with the appropriate level. He knew that both the Minister and the Chief SANDF was excited about Project Thusano, but that the Delegation requires a composite report from Chief Logistics. He thanked them for sharing with the Delegation as far as their mandate was concerned and expressed his best wishes for them and their important task.
4. BRIEFING BY THE GOC AFB WATERKLOOF ON 28 NOVEMBER 2020
The Delegation intended to depart for the landline border visits early on 28 November2020, but due to the weather conditions and the requirement for a specific kind of aircraft to suit the oversight needs, the departure was postponed for a few hours. It was thus decided to bring the presentation on AFB Waterkloof forward while waiting for the weather to clear and to solicit an appropriate aircraft.
Brig Gen J Butler, the acting GOC of the base, along with his top structure, briefed the Delegation on the following issues as requested by the Defence Delegations:
- Mandate and Structure: The mandate is to support light, medium and VVIP transport operations as required by stakeholders in support of governmental, domestic and foreign policies by ensuring combat readiness of AFB Waterkloof for both force preparation and force employment. An organogram of the base with its various units was presented and this included the four operational squadrons, the two Reserve squadrons and the four lodger (support) units. The flying squadrons include 21 Squadron who is responsible for the air transport of VVIP dignitaries who include the Presidency and the Minister. 28 Squadron is composed of six C130 Hercules aircraft for medium lift transport and external deployments.
- Representivity: Theaircrew of 28 Sqnconsists of 13 pilots and 6 navigators of which 17 are males and 2 are females, with 11 being black, 3 being whites, 2 being coloured and 1 being an Indian.
- Cooperation and Coordination:It was emphasised that AFB Waterkloof is a concessionary port of entry and is a strategic military facility and not a National Key Point (NKP). It coordinates its activities with Department of International Relations and Cooperation; the Department of Home Affairs; Customs; the Department of Health (Port Health); Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; the South African Police Service (Border Police); and the Independent Communications Authority of SA.
- Infrastructure and Equipment: Challenges with theRunway included the Airfield Lighting; cabling that are not available locally; natural hazards such as lightning strikes, fire and sinkholes; and water drainage on the airfield. Emergency Services include a Fire Vehicle in category 7 and an Ambulance service with personnel that is on 24/7 standby. Base Support Services has encountered vandalism of their fuel decanting facility at Lyttelton and the PRASA infrastructure has been stolen which led to the unavailability of rail delivery. Obsolete main equipment for the base included fuel points, trucks, specialised roadworks and maintenance and machinery. The hangars are also very old and require ongoing maintenance and repair. Security related issues include the non-availability of a CCTV camera systems; poor access control systems; a lack of a canine capability; and a lack of security vehicles.
- Challenges: The challenges includethe dolomite sinkholes on western side of the base; squatters on base perimeter; turnaround time to maintain infrastructure from DPWI; many of the mess kitchen equipment; renovation/upgrade of mess facilities; upgrade of perimeter/security wall; ageing vehicles fleet; construction of a new tower and fire and rescue services; and the disposal of obsolete and redundant equipment due to a lack of auctions. Other challenges relate to upgrading the base infrastructure; shortage of security personnel; conditions of houses on the base as well as serious challenges with procurement.
- Achievements: These related to an increase in overall aircraft serviceability; a quarantine facility that was established; the neatness and image of the base; the renovation of Officers Mess Dining Hall and weapon store safeguarding.
4.3 Observations by Committee Members
- Members enquired around the number and serviceability of the C130 aircraft given the recent writing off of one of these aircraft on the runway in Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Questions were also raised on the availability of the C130 to,inter alia, support the training of Special Forces and utilisation for maritime surveillance. The response was that as recent as the previous week they supported the Special Forces with their training requirements and that currently only one C130 was serviceable.
- It was enquired whether any project has been registered to replace the C130 and what the view was on the US or other international armed forces donating aircraft to countries. It was indicated that such donations should be approached with extreme caution as often it cost more to maintain and service such aircraft and that is was viewed as better to upgrade aircraft than accept such donations. They expressed concern that nearly all their aircraft are old except the Boeing which was purchased in 2000.
- The Delegation enquired about gender representivity given the few females present during the engagement, and encouraged the SAAF to ensure that they improve on this important dimension. The Delegationexpressed the view that it wants to see an improvement in this regard in a year’s time.
- Questions were also raised around housing for especially young soldiers given that they do not earn large salaries, and might be tempted to get involved in corrupt activities to supplement their income, as was in the case of some SAPS members. It was indicated although SAPS members generally earn more than SANDF members, there is little room for corrupt activities in such a small unit, and that they are well trained and unlikely to become involved in such activities.
- It was enquired why they do not utilise the DWF given the challenges they are experiencing with the DPWI. The response was that the migration process is under way and once completed, they would be able to utilise the DWF more extensively but it would require time before DWF would be up to the standards require by the AFB Waterkloof.
- Questions were raised around the cable theft and that the replacement cables are not locally available, compounding the costs and turnaround time. Given that the base has a small budget, they are very selective with their purchases, and the purchasing of these cables are in process. It was also stated that they focused on items that keep the base going, and in the process the GOC, for instance, decided to limit the purchase of toilet paper and pens to enable more strategic purchases.
- As the majority of the aircraft is old, the question was asked when they plan to procure new aircraft that have the latest technology and who plans these acquisitions. It was indicted that these were done through the Logistics Division but that part of the problem was when contractors who maintain and service these aircraft are changed to comply with regulations, but that these changes often lead to poor service as new contractors first need to get to know each aircraft again.
Mr VC Xaba thanked the Management of the Base and expressed the Delegation’s appreciation that they are continuing to do their best under trying circumstances. The Delegation was then briefed by the Communication Officer of Joint Operations, Capt (SAN) Jaco Theunissen, who escorted the Delegation to the landline border areas. The Co-chairperson also alluded to the country’s porous borders, the fact that 22 sub-units are required and only 15 are deployed, as well as the fact that National Treasury has availed R225 m over the MTEF period to assist the SANDF with acquiring force multiplier technology such as sensors, drones and Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV’s). The Delegation was then flown with a military CASA aircraft to the Musina airstrip near the Beit Bridge border area.
5. BEIT BRIDGE BORDER AREA ON 28 NOVEMBER 2020
The Delegation was met by representatives of the Joint Operations Division, namely MajGen Nompetsheni (CD Operations Joint Operations Division) and Brig Gen T.E. Mulaudzi, the Interim GOC Command Limpopo as well as Lt Col Tigele the Officer Commanding (OC) 9 SA Infantry Battalion, at the Musina airfield. The presentation was done by Lt Col Tigele at the Musina Operational Base. After the presentation the Delegation was driven in modified Toyota Land cruisers which they called “mobility packs” along the Beit Bridge border with Zimbabwe, after which the Delegation boarded the Casa aircraft at the Musina airstrip, enroute to the Malalane airstrip near Komatipoort.
5.2 Presentation by the OC 9 SAI Bn
The presentation covered the following aspects:
- Introduction: This section consisted of an orientation on the SANDF deployment along the borders under Operation CORONA. The Area of Operation (AOO) was outlined and the other government departments operating along the SANDF were pointed out. The focus of Ops Corona is the control over illegal movement of people and goods across our land, air and maritime borders. It thus contains elements of 1) law enforcement; 2) enforcement of state authority; and 3) defence of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the RSA.
- Situation: Thepresenter explained the situation through referring to the Cross border crimes that they are experiencing in the area, and these included the smuggling of vehicles; illegal immigrants; crime such as shooting along the borderline; and poaching. The porous border between SA and Zimbabwe facilitates trans-national criminal activities as mentioned as well as illegal grazing; and the theft of farm equipment in the border area.
- Mandate: Thisis derived from Section 200 of the Constitution read with Section 201 (2) as well as Section 18 of the Defence Act (No. 42 of 2002), where the latter was emphasised as being utilised to “effect national border control.” This was followed by an explanation of the history where previously the Borderline control activities were conducted under Operation Intexo. The SANDF’s deployment along the borders were terminated in 2007 when the SAPS took over. In 2009 the SANDF was directed to return and take over the function, and this is being done under Ops Corona.
- Orientation: The Delegation was orientated with the assistance of maps that outlined the various border landline areas in the country and specifically where the companies of 9 SAI Bn were deployed along the Zimbabwean border. The various distances from Polokwane to the border areas were also pointed out, as well as the distances that every company is covering. The strength of each the four companies and the battalion headquarters were also shown, as well as the ports of entry in the area of operation.
- Activities and Equipment: Theseinclude the various deployments; participation in provincial forums, and liaison with relevant government departments. Regarding the equipment these were listed as the type of vehicles (Land cruisers), also known as mobility packs; the different radios; as well as the observation tools such as binoculars and night sight equipment. With regards to force multipliers through the use of technology, it was indicated that their battlefield surveillance capabilities include UAV’s, as well as sensors, and cameras.
- Coordination with other Departments: Given that the BMA act has been passed but not yet implemented, coordination is viewed as the success factor of all joint operations within the Musina area of operation. This is done through liaison and interaction with the Provincial Joint Operations Committee, the Joint Operations Committee, the Operational liaison committee, the Operational Border Liaison Committee as well as the Operational Border Liaison Committee.
- Relationships with the Farmers and Community: There is a good understanding between the forces on the line with some farmers, to the extent that some offer accommodation to soldiers. However, farms that extend to the border fence is a concern as SANDF members have to request keys to drive through the gates on the patrol road. The local community is positive towards the SANDF and most assist by reporting crime. Some are related to undocumented persons which result in them harbouring them. The relationship with members of the informal settlement along the border is good, especially at Marooi and Maswiri farms.
- Challenges: The main challenge is the porous border that needs to be covered by the limited number of forces. The collusion of members of the security sector with criminal elements as well as the inadequate availability of airframes for quick reaction, are also part of the challenges. The damaged border fence as well as the dry Limpopo river further contribute to the challenges experienced. The limited and kind of vehicles as well as the ageing fleet that has long lead times for repair and maintenance, are also burning issues. This is further exacerbated by the lengthy procurement processes especially for urgent requirements and the non-availability of sufficient battlefield surveillance capabilities.
- Successes: These include the apprehension of undocumented persons, the drastic increase in the confiscation of cigarettes and other contraband, as well as the increase in confiscated vehicles. The statistics for each of these categories were also presented.
- Social Responsibility:Reference was madeto the donation of various commodities such as 5 wheelchairs, sanitary towels, school shoes and groceries. It should be pointed out that these donations were funded by the deployed soldiers themselves and as such they were commended by the Delegation.
5.3 Observations by Committee Members
The Co-chairperson, Mr VC Xaba, indicated that it was the second time that the Delegation was briefed by Lt Col Tigele, the first time being at 9 SAI Battalion’s base in Eersteriver, together with the then Chief of Army, Lt Gen Yam. He stated that the Delegation found the briefing very informative and proceeded to request Members to engage with the presentation. Some of the observations included the following:
- The Delegation requested more information around the liaison meetings of the SANDF with their Zimbabwean counterparts, which apparently take place on the Beit Bridge once a month. It was indicated that this was more of a courtesy call to build relationship and that not much useful information is shared. They also drew the Delegation’s attention to the fact that Zimbabwe is on Level 4 Lockdown, while South Africa was on Level 1, and that these differences impact on the enforcement of the lockdown as well as the management of cross border movement of people and goods.
- A question was raised on the route the so-called “Goma-Gomas” followed to smuggle their contraband across the borders and whether they cannot be blocked or be intercepted along these routes. It was explained that the forces have identified some of these routes and that they do have intelligence driven operations but often these criminals work with the local population to determine the whereabouts of the forces, which complicates the arrests.
- On the question of how many mobility packs have been purchased, it was explained that 90 of these were bought as a “stop-gap” measure and that currently around 65 remain serviceable. Part of the challenge was that these were not procured as a system, therefore when one is written off, it is not replaced. A concern was also raised that these vehicles are soft body vehicles and do not provide the requisite protection and performance as military armoured vehicles do. Given the delays to replace these vehicles it no longer seem to be a temporary measure as was initially intended.
- The Delegation enquired whether the Battalion has any drones or UAVs and it was indicated that, during Ops Notlela, one was deployed by Joint Operations but it has been withdrawn after the operation was concluded.
- The morale of the soldiers was also enquired into, especially against the background that they make arrests only to observe the person trying to enter the country again soon after. It was explained that once soldiers arrest people crossing the border illegally, they are handed over to the SAPS. The morale of the soldiers is considered to be very high and very few cases of corruption has been reported.
- The Delegation questioned the composition of those present especially the gender inequality which indicated very few females, as well as the complaints that have been received around sexual harassment. It was suggested that a gender desk managed by a woman should be created in order to assist with addressing these challenges. The response was that this is being addressed and that in future presentations this will be made very visible.
- A specific question was asked against the background that some SAPS members are apparently taking bribes to allow undocumented persons through, and whether the SANDF soldiers are also guilty of this. As indicated above, the morale of soldiers is very high and very few cases of corruption have been reported.
- With regards to vehicles that have been impounded by the soldiers and handed over to the SAPS, the Delegation wanted to know whether the SANDF follow this through to the point where the owner received the vehicle and/or the vehicle is forfeited to the State. It was explained the Military Police and the DOD’s Legal Division do follow the cases and report back to the deployed units on the outcome or progress of such cases.
The Delegation expressed its appreciation to the military leadership in the Limpopo province and for the sterling work they are doing under challenging circumstances. The Delegation then departed from Musina airstrip with the CASA aircraft to Malalane airstrip near the Lebombo, Komati Poort Border Post, where it received a presentation from the relevant Mpumalanga border military leadership.
6. KOMATI POORT BORDER AREA ON 28 AND 29 NOVEMBER 2020
Col MS Gopane, the Officer Commanding Joint Tactical Headquarters Mpumalanga, and Brig Gen N. Bavuma, Director Conventional at the Joint Operational Headquarters, as well as other leadership elements, received the Delegation at the Airstrip in Malelane and escorted the Delegation to a facility near the border post to present their briefing of the Mpumalanga Border-related issues.
Col Gopane’ s presentation stressed that Border safeguarding (land, air and maritime) is a component of the defence of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the RSA (domestic defence layer). It occurs within the national border safeguarding strategy in pursuance of national security objectives and is regulated by the rule of law. It constitutes the continuous and uninterrupted employment of tailored military capabilities. Other issues covered include:
- Introduction: The first part of the presentation followed the same sequence as the previous presentation in Limpopo that is, therole of the SANDF in border safeguarding and its brief history, the role of Joint Operations, and the Mandate.
- Situation Overview: This covered the area of interest in the Mpumalanga province, and the relevant border lengths such Zimbabwean border being 30km, the Mozambican side being 440 km, the Swaziland side 310 km and the total border distance covered by the Mpumalanga Joint Tactical Headquarters being 780 km.
- Activities: Some of the activities encountered include the illegal entering of the country, smuggling of weapons and ammunition, harvesting of natural resources and poaching. The latter is prevalent around the Skukuza, Pretoriuskop, and Kingfisherspruit areas. Elephant poaching groups originate from Mooiplaas, Vlakteplaas, Mahlangeni, Shangoni and the Punda Maria areas.
- Areas of Responsibility: This was pointed out as the Macadamia area where 10 substations are deployed along the Mozambican border. The Zonstraal area is along the Swaziland border of around 200km and where truck hijacking, dagga smuggling, and undocumented persons are found. Around the Bothashoop, Mahamba Port of Entry and the Mozana area, activities such as the crossing of children to attend school in the RSA and cattle smuggling are found.
- Operational successes. These include the confiscation of dagga up to the value of R19m, the arrest of 2 827 undocumented persons, 10 weapons, 81 vehicles up to the value of R28m, illegal goods to the value of R20m and the arrest of 234 persons, for the year 2019. Similar successes have been scored for the year under review. The Delegation was shown a photo gallery of the various vehicles, drugs, “tekkies,” cigarettes, as well as confiscated horns of rhinoceros.
- Cooperation with stakeholders: It was indicated that the forces are working with a SA vehicle Tracker system, have local Chiefs Imbizos, partake in the Community Police Forums, and that a WhatsApp group has been established for farmers in the Zonstraal Area of Responsibility.
- Force Multipliers: Here reference was madeto the limited deployment of battlefield surveillance capabilities such as UAVs, and the utilisation of the area for training purposes for electronic warfare, tracking etc. The two UAV’s were donated to the Kruger National Park and were only used in that particular area.
- Outreach Programmes:The Delegation was shown pictures of the various initiatives which included the repair of a school fence, painting of ablution facilities and especially the building of a preschool in the Lillydale location. Other activities included the handing over of presents to children over the Christmas period, as well as the donation of food at a Care Center in which they were assisted by the local Spar.
- Challenges: The inadequate number of personnel to cover the Area of Responsibility in relation to the distance that need to be covered, as well as the illegal crossing points. The latter is also used by children to attend school in the RSA. The poor condition of the border fence, the inadequate number of vehicles which are also aged, and especially the lengthy procurement processes, including for operationally required items such as tyres, are some of the main challenges.
6.2 Observations by Committee Members
The Co-chairperson, Mr ME Nchabeleng, thanked the presenters for the presentation and given that this was done at around 19:00 on a Saturday evening, and that the visit to the stations would be done the next day, few questions were asked.
- Members asked what contribution Ops Thusano was making to elevate the situation around the repair of vehicles, especially around the repair and maintenance of military vehicles, as was partly shared with the Delegation at the SA Army Main Ordnance Sub-depot Wallmansthal. It was pointed out that Ops Thusano had little to with the mobility packs in the sense that these were still under a motor plan with Toyota.
- With regards to the Battle Surveillance Capabilities, the Delegation enquired around the presence of drones and/or UAVs. Reference was then made to cameras, binoculars, night sight equipment, while it was stated that two UAVs donated to the KNP were utilised but that these were also restricted due the distance/range limitations as well as the weather conditions.
- Questions were also asked around sensors at the borders to which the response was that those parts of the border that resort under the Kruger National Park are well fenced and maintained, and that the rest of the fences are in a dilapidated condition, with no sensors.
- Around the question of the arrest of especially undocumented persons, the response was that arrests are effected by the forces, after which they are handed over the SAPS, and their cases are being followed up the Military Police and the Legal Division of the SANDF.
- The response to how many people are arrested for poaching and vehicle theft, was met with a response that 249 persons have been arrested for these offences and that 40 undocumented persons were taken into custody.
- It was questioned how children from across the border could attend to school in the RSA, against the background that each child’s parent or guardian need to enrol her/him. It was explained that this has been an ongoing situation that has been allowed and that registers are being kept at the crossing points, to ensure orderly crossing and that this is based on a bilateral agreement between the two countries. The example of Pela in the Northern Cape where children attend school in Namibia, was also used to illustrate that these crossings are not necessarily illegal and are based on relevant agreements between countries.
- Concern was expressed around the procurement of tyres for the mobility packs, given that the terrain is such that the tyres do not last long. The fact that the procurement process is centralised and that it takes time to procure replacement tyres impacts negatively on the effectiveness of the deployment as well as the morale of the deployed soldiers.
- Members enquired about the kind of fence that has been erected along the border that is not covered by the KNP. It was indicated that it is a normal agricultural fence and that the ideal would be to have a fence similar to that used by the KNP.
- Questions were asked around the shooting incident which involved a Mozambican policeman and a SANDF soldier. The situation that occurred was explained to the Delegation and, in short, revolved around a stolen vehicle that got stuck on the border and was pushed back to the RSA.
- The Delegation expressed the view that many of the issues raised, should be engaged with by the Delegation at a higher level and the example of the vehicles, procurement challenges, bilateral agreements, UAVs, the crossing of children to attend school and clinics etc, were used.
The Delegation retired for the night, and the following morning was taken to two stations along the Mozambican border where the SANDF is deployed. The first station was the platoon headquarters, and here Members were confronted by the reality facing these soldiers. This included the lack of a water bunker, unserviceable toilets, leaking roofs, a lack of suitable vehicles to patrol the border, and the long stretches that have to be covered by the limited number of forces.
The second stop was at the railway line between the two countries near at the Lebombo Border Post, and it was pointed out that often people either walk along the train that travel at a very low speed and crosses into South Africa, or board the good wagons to cross into South Africa. It was explained that although measures are in place to prevent these illegal crossings, these are not always successful. The Delegation was taken to the Malalane airstrip from where it was flown to the Kosi Bay airstrip.
7. KOSI BAY BORDER AREA ON 29 NOVEMBER 2020
The Delegation was met at the Kosi airstrip by, amongst others, the GOC Joint Operational Headquarters, Maj General S.L. Sangweni, the OC Joint Tactical Headquarters Kwazulu-Natal, Col M. Albertyn, and the OC 10 Anti-Air Regiment Lt Col M.W. J. Van Wyk. The Delegation was taken to the Umhlabayalingana Municipal Offices where the presentation was conducted by Col Albertyn after a few introductory remarks by Maj Gen Sangweni.
After a few opening remarks by Mr VC Xaba, who referred to the Delegation now being on the ground to witness first-hand the conditions under which the soldiers are operating along our landline borders. The exposure puts the Committee Members in a good position to interact much more informed with subsequent briefings by the SANDF. He then invited the presenter to proceed with the presentation.
The presentation covered the following aspects of which the Introductory part was the same as the previous presentations in relation to the mandate, historical developments around border deployment, Ops Corona and its objectives. It also included the role of SA Navy as part of Ops Corona for maritime patrol purposes given the eastern coast line border.
- Area of Operation: The distances from the Bluff in Durban where the Joint Tactical Headquarters are situated, to Farazella in the north is 590 km, Newcastle to the northwest is 340 km, Himeville to the east is 220 km and Port Edward is 160 km to the south west. The land area of KZN was indicated as being 95 361 km,2 while the length of the Mozambican border is 81 km with that of the Eswatini border being 143km, and the Lesotho border being 260 km long.
- Operations: The forces rotate every six months and the Battalion headquarters are in Pongola. One company is deployed along the RSA/Eswatini border, where the activities include the smuggling of vehicles, goods and contraband, and the arrest of undocumented persons. The second company is deployed along the RSA/Mozambican border where activities include illegal crossing, goods and contraband, game poaching, and vehicles crossings. The third company is deployed along the RSA/Lesotho border where activities include undocumented persons, stock theft, the smuggling of dagga, stock theft, weapons and criminality. The Battalion strength is 540 with 140 being females.
- Operational successes: These include the arrest of 22 persons; arrest of 16 undocumented persons; the confiscation of contraband, narcotics, ammunition, and stolen vehicles. The Delegation was also shown a portfolio of photos depicting the various confiscated items.
- Outreach Projects: This included the construction of a house for two blind brothers, namely Bongani and Sipho Khumalo, assisting the Mtshali family with repairing their house and establishing a vegetable garden for this family with six children. Other activities include food parcels and gifts for children during the festive season.
- Force Multiplier: Here attention was on the limited Battlefield Surveillance capability, when required, as well as drones/UAVs to complement this capability.
- Cooperation with other departments: It was indicated that these were similar to the other two provinces with a monthly Provincial Joint Committee meetings; Operational Liaison Committee meetings quarterly, as well as coordinating meetings with SAPS/Eswatini/Lesotho/Mozambique counterparts on a monthly basis. They also have good relationships with the local traditional leadership.
- Challenges: Ageing equipment; long lead times of procurement process; inadequate mobility capability; inadequate reserves; inadequate human resources to cover the area effectively, are some of the challenges. Others include criminal syndicates operating in the Area of Responsibility; possible collusion of security elements with criminals; Gate 6 as a crossing point; limited maritime resources to manage the maritime border as well as communities living next to the fence.
7.2 Observations by Committee Members
- Having noted the cement blocks along the border to prevent the smuggling of vehicles across the border, it was enquired who funded these blocks. The response was that it was the KwaZulu-Natal government and that it would be welcomed if such a project can be extended to other areas where this is possible. It was also stressed that although these so called ‘Jersey barriers’ might retard the cross-border smuggling of vehicles, it will not stop people from crossing illegally, and would also allow animals to cross.
- On the meetings with their counterparts of the neighbouring countries, the Delegation wanted to know about the number of arrests and whether some of these criminals were brought back to the country or handed to their counterparts. It was indicated that these meetings are more courtesy in nature and that limited sharing of information takes place, rather than handing over arrested criminals as each country has its own legislative framework on how these situations should be managed.
- It was enquired whether the soldiers accompany the stock theft victims across the border to fetch their cattle or how this kind of operation is being conducted. The response was that the SANDF works in conjunction with the SAPS and that they do not cross the borders but assist communities on the RSA side, when requested to do so, especially in relation to protection when they guide their cattle back.
- Referring to the barriers/boulders erected along the borderline, reference was made to the fact that no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been done by the relevant provincial authority and it was cautioned that such assessments are necessary and should be taken up with the relevant structures in future engagements.
- The Delegation was also informed that often the crossing of people for legitimate reasons, are used by criminals to “piggy-back” on them, complicating the effective control of border crossings, such as at Gate 6, where on “market days” crossings take place to allow people to purchase goods. Similarly, the crossing of children to attend schools and clinics is due to the lack of such infrastructure on their side, and because it is often very costly and far to cross at a Port of Entry. The DOD is engaging the Department of Home Affairs to “regularise” some of these crossings as it is very difficult for the SANDF to manage. Reference was also made to such a pilot project between Botswana and the North West provincial government; as well as the Lesotho and Free State provincial government, and where the use of permits is facilitating such crossings.
Mr Nchabeleng, the Co-chairperson (NCOP), thanked the SANDF leadership and wish them well with their border protection duties. The Delegation was flown with a SAAir Force Oryx helicopter to the border line between the RSA and Mozambique and shown the concrete blocks, and other facilities. Lt Col van Wyk explained to the Delegation the conditions at the border and highlighted some of the challenges and successes of his deployed forces. The Delegation was also taken to the infamous Gate 6 where informal trading takes place, as well as where children cross to attend school and clinics on the RSA side.
After the site visit the Delegation was flown by helicopter to the Richards Bay Airport, as the weather conditions did not allow the Casa aircraft to take off on such a rugged air strip in Kosi Bay. At Richards Bay Airport the Delegation boarded the Casa aircraft and was flown to AFB Waterkloof.
8. GENERAL COMMITTEE OBSERVATIONS
The following are some of the key Observations made by the Delegation:
- The Total Facility Management project at 1 Military Hospital must be prioritised, in order to resolve the infrastructural problems at the hospital.
- The SA Air Force’s ageing fleet is very concerning, as it will soon become obsolete, which will further exacerbate the current serious situation to execute their mandate.
- The Delegation observed that the border landline perimeter fences in all the sites visited, with the exception of the 8 kilometer jersey barriers in KZN, are wholly inadequate.
- The Delegation commended the initiative of the KZN Provincial Government in erecting the jersey barriers in an effort to curb vehicle smuggling across the border.
- The Delegation witnessed first-hand that the number of subunits deployed along our landline borders as part of Operation Coronais inadequate given the vast terrain; the number and age of the vehicles; the lack of battlefield surveillance equipment; the lack of UAV’s, drones and sensors; and the poor support by the DPWI. These issues are further complicated by the funding challenges experienced by the Department.
- The above should be read with the presence of the dilapidated infrastructure and equipment, which is compounded by a lack of regular maintenance and repairs.
- Operational challenges relating to undocumented persons and cross-border crime are further exacerbated by insufficient support and cooperation from neighbouring countries.
- One of the main recurring issues noticed, was challenges around procurement especially as it relates to urgent requirements and the limited financial delegation to the provincial headquarters, which further exacerbate the effectiveness of the forces on the ground.
- The Delegation further took note of the concerns around the lack of appropriate and properly suited vehicles to patrol along the landline borders.
9. RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE DEFENCE COMMITTEES
Given the briefings the various military bases visited as well as the inspection of selected landline border posts along the three borders with Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Eswatini, as well as the responses to questions by the Delegation, the Defence Committees made the following recommendations:
- RAMP. The continued challenges around the RAMP project and related projects were found to be unacceptable, and the Delegation expects an update on the progress to address the challenges at the hospital, on a quarterly basis. Of specific concern is thefirst floor which should host the radiology section, the new pharmacy and emergency theatres. The R1bn required to complete the RAMP, should be ring-fenced.
- Deviation for RAMP conclusion. The DOD is in a process of applying for a deviation from National Treasury to accommodate the changed scope. The DOD and National Treasury should fast-track this engagement and report immediately to the Committee the outcome of this engagement.
- Outsourcing of services: One of the main challenges of the hospital is that it has to outsource certain services due to various reasons, leading to exorbitant amounts being spent of these services. The Committee therefore recommended that this issue should be addressed through completing the construction/repair projects in order and to attract and retain much needed medical specialists.
9.2 Main Ordnance Sub-depot Wallmansthal:
- Water and electricity:The Delegation was especially concerned about the interruption of water and electricity supply to the Base, given its challenges around hygiene, the interruption of the Base activities, and especially those around security. The DOD should report in writing to the Committee, by the end of the Fourth Quarter of 2019/20, the status of electricity and water supply at the unit as well as steps taken to mitigate these failures in future. Steps to enhance security at the base should also be furthered.
- Operation Thusano: Given the lack of a proper overview of all the activities of Operation Thusano, the Delegation endeavoured to engage the DOD Chief of Logistics on the matter, especially around the challenges on concerns raised by the Committees in this regard.
- Infrastructure and Equipment: The Committee expressed its concern around the ageing fleet of aircraft of the various squadrons at the base, the condition of the infrastructure and equipment at the base, and endeavoured to engage the relevant stakeholders to assist the SAAF to address these challenges.
- Condition, serviceability of the C130 aircraft: Given the role these aircraft play to support and transport SANDF members and equipment inland as well as abroad, the Committee endeavoured to investigate this matter as well as to enquire and motivate for the acquisition of a new fleet for this purpose.
9.4 Landline border bases
- Meetings: A meeting should be scheduled with the KZN Provincial Government to engage with them on the management of the KZN borders. Consideration should also be given to invite the Tracker company and other insurance companies on their efforts to address the smuggling of vehicles across the borders and how the involvement of other such related companies can be facilitated.
- Fence: Itwas indicated that the kind of fence used especially along the RSA/Zimbabwe border is wholly inadequate as was noticed by the numerous holes as well as the removal of many posts that are supposed to keep the fence erect. The Committee thus recommended that a proper type of fence should be developed and that engineers should assist in the development of such as fence. This will be taken up with the DPWI.
- Lengthy procurement processes: At all of the briefings, frustration was expressed on the delays in procuring urgently required operational items, and the Delegation noted the impact such delays had on the effectiveness of the deployments. The Delegation thus recommended that the DOD and the National Treasury should consider the development of procurement protocols specifically for military operations sanctioned in terms of Section 201 of the Constitution and Section 18 of the 2002 Defence Act. The aim of such protocols should be the ensure the speedy procurement of much needed operational equipment while balancing this need with the principles of accountability and financial responsibility. The Committee will schedule a meeting with Chief Logistics and National Treasury by the end of March 2021.
- Mobility packs: One of the main challenges facing the deployed forces, was that the tyres of the Mobility packs were not suited to the terrain. Given the costs of the tyres, the restricted financial delegation of the relevant J Tac HQs, and especially the lengthy procurement processes, the Delegation undertook to prioritise this item in their engagement with the Chief of Logistics.
- Arial support: The lack of sufficient and adequate air support has been raised especially when urgent deployment to a hot spot or incident or emergency is required and especially where the terrain does not allow the quick movement on land to such situations. The Delegation undertook to engage the DOD to investigate whether more such support can be facilitated.
- Technology support and force multipliers. The Committee is concerned about the apparent lack of technological force multipliers along the border. The DOD is encouraged to enhance the use of UAVs and enhanced battlefield surveillance equipment in areas where such technology proves to be an effective force multiplier. The Committee notes the additional R225 million provided to the DOD over the MTEF for the acquisition of border safeguarding technology and requires to DOD to provide quarterly updates on expenditure in this regard.
- Children crossing the border: While the crossing of the border by children to attend schools and clinics in South Africa has been ongoing, the Delegation endeavoured to investigate this matter further in order to determine how it can support the SANDF in this regard. Furthermore, the Committee requests the Department of Home Affairs to urgently finalise the formalisation of Gate 6 along the South Africa-Mozambique border.
- Representivity: The Delegation recommended that the DOD should enhance its efforts to address representivity regarding both race and gender, as well as ensuring that a Gender Desk is established to further assist affected SANDF members with regard to for instance Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) cases. The Department should also report to the Defence Committees on a quarterly basis on complaints in this regard, and especially how these are being investigated and managed.
- Coordination with other Departments: The Committees undertook to investigate the implementation of the BMA as this would assist to coordinate border-aligned entities, as well as ensuring that a whole-government approach is established.
- Living conditions on borders. The Committee requires urgent engagement between the DPWI, the DWF and the DOD to plan for an upgrade of section headquarter buildings along South Africa’s borders. Of specific importance is the ensuring of functioning ablution facilities and water provision. The Committee will request a joint briefing in this regard.
- Increase in the number of deployed soldiers. Notwithstanding the addition of R225 million allocated for border safeguarding technology over the MTEF, it is evident that the borderline environment poses significant challenges that, in some areas, will only be augmented by a physical troop presence on the ground. The Committee therefore recommends the allocation of additional funds over the MTEF to incrementally increase the number of SANDF companies to be deployed along the borders. The Committee recommended that the number of subunits deployed, should be increased to at least 22.
- Social Responsibility:The Delegation commended all the units deployed as part of Ops Corona for the involvement and support of communities in their respective areas of responsibility, especially since these activities are funded out of their own pockets. It further encouraged all other units to enhance such efforts to ensure that is viewed as caring and involved in the plight of the respective communities.
Report to be considered.
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