South Africa's new president, Jacob Zuma, delivered his first state of the nation address on Wednesday this week. While the main focus of the address was on the economy and job creation, there was also a good deal of interest in President Zuma's speech for those concerned with the nation's security.
Among President Zuma's pronouncements on security were an emphasis on addressing crime and increasing the capabilities of the criminal justice system, a promise to tighten up the regulation of the private security industry, a promise to intensify efforts to combat cybercrime and identity theft, and a note of thanks to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for their contribution to peace building on the African continent.
Perhaps most titillating, though, was President Zuma's announcement that the government would ‘start the process of setting up a Border Management Agency.' There can be no question that high-level recognition that South Africa's porous borders represent a significant threat to the nation is long overdue. Border security has in recent years essentially fallen between two stools, as the SANDF has gradually passed over most of the responsibility for this task to a reluctant and under-resourced South African Police Service (SAPS). The announcement that a dedicated Border Management Agency (BMA) will be set up to address this critical task is therefore welcome indeed.
Of course there are many questions that this announcement raises. Central among these is whether the BMA will be merely a coordinating body, acting as a kind of ‘joint operations centre' for the many other government bodies (including SAPS, Department of Home Affairs, SANDF, and South African Revenue Services) involved in securing and managing the nation's borders. Or will the BMA have robust border management capabilities of its own? There are good reasons for hoping for the latter.
Securing borders is a task that requires a unique set of capabilities, which neither the SAPS nor the SANDF truly possess. In many respects it is a task that falls somewhere between the capabilities of these two branches of our nation's security services. On the one hand it requires the ability to enforce law, detain and process suspected law breakers - something which the SANDF is not adept at doing. On the other hand it requires robust patrolling (often over difficult terrain), surveillance, communications and cohesive small unit skills - skills which are not generally in the police officer's toolkit.
While South Africa has good reason to raise an eyebrow at the United States' incredible proliferation of security agencies, that nation's Border Patrol service is a good example of a separate service that possesses the unique skills-set required for this critical and demanding task.
Despite the interesting recent suggestion by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa that the SANDF could be called on to help guard cash-in-transit vehicles against criminals, it seems unlikely (given the apartheid history of the internal use of the old South African Defence Force (SADF)) that the military will be given a significant direct role in addressing crime and/or border security. This does not, however, exhaust the ways in which the SANDF could contribute to addressing this critical security threat. While SANDF personnel do not generally have all the skills needed for the job of border security, nonetheless it is clear that much of the training such personnel receive has considerable bearing in this regard. Indeed, the value of the capable and disciplined manpower generated by thorough military training is already being recognized in the high demand from the South African Police Services (SAPS) and other security services for graduates from the SA Army's two-year short-service military skills development system (MSDS).
Here is one way that such a BMA ‘border security force' could be set up in such a way that it would enhance the nation's security efforts on a number of fronts. What is proposed is the formation of specific border patrol units that fall under the authority of BMA but are manned exclusively by graduates of the SANDF's MSDS programme and, to a lesser extent, former members of the SAPS, Metro Police Units, Correctional Services and other relevant branches of the nation's security services. Once appropriately trained, these units could be deployed to remote stretches of South Africa's borders in accordance with a military-style rotation, before returning to base for further training and reconstitution. A particular virtue of such units would be their ability to be deployed as units, making them also very valuable for operations in support of local SAPS units on a surge basis, or for deployment beyond our borders as civilian police (CIVPOL) assets for AU and UN peacekeeping and stability operations.
It is these latter roles that make this proposal particularly attractive. BMA units would have sufficient police-like skills to make them a useful force-multiplier for the SAPS for specific operations that require a surge of personnel, and their military-style ability to deploy in an ‘expeditionary' manner would also be particularly helpful in this regard. For the SANDF, on the other side of the equation, these units, with their preponderance of former SANDF personnel and expeditionary capability will be natural partners for peacekeeping and stability operations. Furthermore, the availability of BMA units for peacekeeping and stability operations will lessen the already excessive demand on the SANDF, and will help fill a huge demand for CIVPOL personnel. And of course ‘piggybacking' the BMA capability on the SANDF's MSDS training will reduce the overall cost of training.
A final thought, in passing. President Zuma's determination to improve the government's oversight over the private security industry is laudable. But might this not be taken a step further? Those who help secure our nation should not only profit but should also serve. Why not make it a requirement that all armed security personnel also serve either as members of the SANDF Reserves or as SAPS reservists, with a mandatory period of annual service? That would certainly go a long way to helping rejuvenate the SANDF's reserve units and providing more manpower for fighting crime. And that way, in a sense, Minister Mthethwa will see his wish of SANDF reservists guarding cash-in-transit vehicles coming true!
By: Deane-Peter Baker, Editor of the ISS flagship research publication, the African Security Review