BOR­DER­ING ON A JOKE: Gov­ern­ment must stop spend­ing bil­lions on use­less mil­i­tary en­gage­ments

Finweek English Edition - - COLUMN - STEPHEN MUL­HOL­LAND

ASIDE FROM PRO­VID­ING lux­ury travel in pri­vate jets for our po­lit­i­cal elite, one won­ders what ex­actly the func­tions are that our de­fence force ful­fils. Mil­i­tary bands are use­ful at events, such as the open­ing of Par­lia­ment, while cushy posts for con­nected cadres – usu­ally over­weight and un­trained – are in good sup­ply in South Africa’s armed forces. Fur­ther, an ac­quis­i­tive SA Na­tional De­fence Force is also a won­der­ful profit ma­chine for African Na­tional Congress klep­to­crats, a species not in short sup­ply. But to the best of my knowl­edge we aren’t threat­ened by any hos­tile coun­try.

For many years our un­der-re­sourced and over-stretched po­lice force guarded, if that’s the word, our por­ous borders across which mil­lions of refugees from the north scut­tled into our coun­try. Re­cently, De­fence Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu im­plic­itly ad­mit­ted that in dis­band­ing the old, tried, tested and true com­mando sys­tem the coun­try had lost a great source of the ex­per­tise, in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory and knowl­edge es­sen­tial to bor­der pro­tec­tion.

On Sisulu’s be­half, SANDF Chief Di­rec­tor, Op­er­a­tions, Ma­jor-Gen­eral Bar­ney Hlatshwayo, also ad­mit­ted it had been a mis­take to with­draw the mil­i­tary from our borders, re­plac­ing them with po­lice.

Sisulu said when the mil­i­tary is de­ployed in SA con­fu­sion arises, as it did dur­ing the Soc­cer World Cup, over just who is in charge. Only the Pres­i­dent, she cor­rectly points out, can de­ploy our armed forces. She holds the po­lice have an in­ter­nal man­date while the SANDF’s re­mit is at our borders and “fur­ther afield”. Here she’s re­fer­ring, of course, to the de­ploy­ment of our sol­diers and the odd air force per­son­nel to hope­less cases on the con­ti­nent, as if we are some sort of United States of Amer­ica in Africa.

Given the truly des­per­ate state of mil­lions of our peo­ple – short of essen­tials such as sew­er­age, elec­tric­ity, cloth­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, trans­port and food – one would imag­ine our Gov­ern­ment would have enough on its hands not to spend bil­lions on use­less mil­i­tary en­gage­ments in far-flung African hell­holes.

It’s also com­mon knowl­edge our cur­rent bor­der pro­tec­tion is a joke. Bor­der in­fra­struc­ture with Zim­babwe, Le­sotho and Swazi­land is wrecked, fences stolen or de­stroyed, while when the po­lice were of­fi­cially on site there was one cop for ev­ery 4,3km – an im­pos­si­ble task.

Fur­ther, the SA Po­lice Force’s Stock Theft Unit has a laugh­able three per­son­nel. Thus farm­ers in bor­der ar­eas are at the mercy of stock thieves, who also pose a dan­ger to life and limb of those pro­duc­ing our food in re­mote ar­eas. That’s not to men­tion the threat of the spread of disease, such as foot and mouth, which dev­as­tates our herds re­sult­ing in a sit­u­a­tion in which we’ve lost tens of thou­sands of farm­ers and are now a net im­porter of food.

Thus we clearly need a form of bor­der pa­trol, be it sup­plied by com­man­dos, the po­lice or a new spe­cialised bor­der pa­trol or some of all three.

But it’s been shown our army isn’t up to the task and, in any event, there’s a to­tal lack of clar­ity as to whether the army is, in fact, guard­ing our borders or if any­one at all is do­ing so. Ap­par­ently, we must wait un­til 2014 be­fore there’s a for­mal pres­ence – from one of the po­lice, the army or a new bor­der guard­ing agency, or what­ever – be­fore we’ll know if we’re pro­tected, in ex­change for our tax pay­ments, from il­le­gals flood­ing across our borders and their con­comi­tant crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

And it might well be we con­sider aban­don­ing our role as the peace­keeper of Africa while our poor starve and die early. Af­ter all, we don’t have the skills to op­er­ate or main­tain our so­phis­ti­cated naval and air weapons of war.

Per­haps we should look at the ex­am­ple of Costa Rica, one of the few coun­tries to have no armed forces, apart from po­lice. It’s a pros­per­ous and peace­ful nation with an­nual in­come per capita of R80 000, life ex­pectancy of al­most 80 years (ours is 50) and is ranked as one of the world’s finest, safest and green­est coun­tries in which to live.

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