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