AfriForum in border dispute with SANDF

Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) have been instructed to cease cooperating with AfriForum’s border security structures in Musina, Limpopo, the group claims. 

“It is very clear that political interference is once again derailing successful efforts by committed citizens to work together with the SAPS and military to curb crime,” AfriForum’s campaigns manager Jacques Broodryk said.

He said AfriForum’s patrolling officers at the border with Zimbabwe had a good working relationship with law enforcement and military personnel on the ground, but “these SANDF and SAPS officials were recently instructed by their seniors to cease all cooperation with AfriForum’s safety structures in the Musina area”.

Over the last couple of weeks, the department of home affairs and the defence force have signalled their unhappiness with AfriForum’s Border Watch Initiative launched at the start of June. 

A statement from the defence force earlier this week aligned with the department, saying “it would be illegal for any civil organisation or NGO, including business[es] to conduct patrols at any borders of the Republic of South Africa”.

The SANDF said it would not “shed its responsibility” of patrolling border lines given to it by the Constitution.

“It is the responsibility of the SANDF to maintain all borderline integrity of the country and not any other non-state grouping or groups,” it said.

“Therefore the responsibility of borderline patrols belongs to the SANDF, which is a statutory law enforcement agency, and this responsibility cannot be ceded to business[es], NGOs or organisations.”

On 20 June, the home affairs department responded to a video it said suggested AfriForum “has taken over the responsibility of patrolling the borderline” along the Limpopo River. 

“This is blatantly untrue,” the department said in a statement. 

“Members of AfriForum in Musina are patrolling their own farms which are neighbouring the borderline. They are certainly not patrolling the general border line outside their farms. If they were doing so, it would have been illegal. The responsibility of patrolling the borderline is that of statutory law enforcement agencies and they have not handed it over to any citizen or group of citizens,” it said.

In response to the defence force and the department’s reactions, Broodryk said efforts to support law enforcement in border areas would continue “within the confines of the law”. 

“Our patrollers often worked together with law enforcement officials and this [led] to many successes. It is a pity that those dedicated officials are now being pressured to stop their cooperation with AfriForum’s civilian safety structure on the Zimbabwean border,” he said.

SAPS did not respond to the M&G’s inquiry about AfriForum’s claims, while the SANDF referred the M&G back to its initial press release in which it stated: “The SANDF wants to assure all South Africans, in particular those living along the borders, that it will continue to secure the borderline and will work with those communities, namely farmers, traditional leaders, business and community in general, to ensure that there is a coordinated effort to curb cross-border crime.”

AfriForum’s Border Watch Initiative was established after its documentary film Open Borders received support from the public. The film sketches a grim outlook of border control between South Africa and Zimbabwe and highlights how AfriForum’s neighbourhood watches in border areas help safeguard people. 

“Between June and September of last year alone, AfriForum’s neighbourhood watch in Musina helped to seize smuggled goods with a total value of more than R12-million,” Broodryk said. 

The Border Watch Initiative also has two sniffer dogs “to strengthen the Musina neighbourhood watch’s methods to catch smugglers and seize their smuggled goods”, reads a statement released by AfriForum earlier this month. 

In its statement, the defence force said it would continue to secure the border line and work with communities. There was a coordinated effort between farmers, traditional leaders, businesses and local residents to “curb cross-border crime”, it added.

In April and May, more than 5 500 undocumented people were apprehended along the borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In addition, drugs, firearms, livestock and other contraband were confiscated. In one incident, 50kg of copper was confiscated. 

The poor state of South Africa’s ports of entry was highlighted when President Cyril Ramaphosa in July 2020 passed the Border Management Authority Act, which outlines the need for “integrated and coordinated border management in accordance with the Constitution, international and domestic law”.

One of the Border Management Authority’s objectives is to “ensure effective and efficient border law enforcement functions at ports of entry and the border”.

The home affairs department, which oversees the authority, recently said it was “proceeding with speed” and had finalised the appointment of the first cohort of 200 border guards who will be deployed along the most vulnerable sections of the border.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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