THE LESOTHO-SOUTH AFRICA BORDER PROBLEM
Farmer's Weekly|February 14, 2020
The strip of land spanning just over 900km along the Lesotho-South Africa border remains a source of economic loss and trauma for the many rural South Africans living there. Sabrina Dean spoke to Dr Jane Buys and Richard Chelin about the safety and security challenges in the area.
Sabrina Dean

The Kingdom of Lesotho, which is entirely landlocked, shares a border of 909km with three of South Africa’s provinces, namely the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape. In many instances, the border does not exist in any physical sense, but is an “artificial border on a map”, according to researcher Richard Chelin.

Chelin works on the Enact Africa program, which is funded by the EU and aims to enhance the response to transnational organized crime on the continent, at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). He specializes in three areas, namely cybercrime, natural resource exploitation, and wildlife crimes such as poaching and illicit trade in fauna or flora.

It was his research in these fields that prompted him to take a closer look at the effects of transnational livestock theft committed by crime syndicates operating between South Africa and Lesotho.

“We’ve found that this [livestock theft] has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent,” he says. He adds that organized livestock theft feeds into other, more serious, types of transnational organized crimes such as drugs, weapons and human trafficking. Ultimately, this results in the creation of illicit financial flows, which are estimated to cost African countries more than US$50 billion (about R700 billion) per annum.

POROUS BORDER

Dr. Jane Buys, a safety risk analyst at Free State Agriculture (FSA), has been following the situation along the Free State-Lesotho border for years. She says that FSA has become embroiled in numerous legal battles over the problem since the agricultural organization first engaged with government stakeholders 10 years ago due to insufficient protection for South African citizens living along the border. Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches and the lack of a suitable road to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively.

The FSA took various departments to court in 2009. In June 2010, a court agreement was reached between FSA and the departments of defense and public works in which the government agreed that the fence, roads, and patrols were a priority. However, subsequent court cases regarding the implementation of this have been met with mixed results, culminating in a case brought by FSA being dismissed on appeal.

“We tried to pursue the case through the Constitutional Court, but the court found it did not have the necessary jurisdiction,” she recalls.

Buys says that despite this, the government has implied that it views the Lesotho border as a priority. In 2015, the Department of Public Works appointed Delta BEC as lead consultant to provide town planning services for an upgrade project. It produced a draft basic assessment report for the Proposed Lesotho Border Road and Associated Infrastructure project, which was available for public review in October 2019. However, consolidated activities by various government departments have failed to improve the security situation alongside the border area, says Buys.

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