The construction of an additional fence along South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe to help curb the spread of COVID-19 is facing serious scrutiny.
The 40km barrier was announced by Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille in March as a measure to prevent undocumented or infected persons from illegally crossing the border.
The fence would cover 20km on either side of the Beitbridge border post and cost R37.2 million, De Lille explained. It consists of rolls of razor wire and a razor fence grid, at a height of 1.8m.
Less than a month after the announcement, however, additional security and soldiers had to be deployed to secure the fence, following several reports of breaches in it.
“With regard to the Beitbridge border fence which DPWI is erecting and criminal elements damaging the fence: I am investigating this matter,” De Lille said in a tweet responding to the issue.
“The contractor has increased security personnel. The Defence Force has also deployed soldiers to patrol the border,” she said.
She accompanied her tweets with the pictures below.
“COVID-19 fence” just an expression
Rapport has now detailed the events of a virtual meeting where the parliamentary portfolio committee for Public Works asked De Lille about the impact of the new fence.
DA MP Tim Brauteseth asked why the department referred to it as a COVID-19 fence when it effectively was just a normal border fence.
The department’s top officials submitted the name did not actually mean anything, but that it was merely an expression.
No questions were asked on the possible legal ramifications of using R37 million of disaster funding for a standard fence.
ACDP MP Wilfred Thring subsequently asked the question: Did the fence work?
De Lille then submitted that a particular section of the fence would cease to exist within a day of its construction.
She stated that she therefore requested the Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to have the fence patrolled.
The minister explained that particular sections of the fence would “disappear” once soldiers moved away from it.
Auditor-General to investigate
A recent Sunday Times report revealed that “border-hoppers” had no problems cutting through the new fence
“This is not a fence,” one illegal crosser told the newspaper, moments after crossing the Limpopo River into South Africa.
“This thing doesn’t even take me five minutes to cut through. We make big holes so we can get suitcases with cigarettes through and small ones so we can get people and groceries through,” he said.
Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu has said the contract for the fence is under investigation for alleged procurement irregularities.