Dukes tasked to bring down syndicatesComment on this story
Cape Town - In places, the border that separates Swaziland and South Africa is rather inhospitable.
The bush teems with wildlife, rugged holes conceal deadly black mambas and the humid air is thick with mosquitoes.
But this is where a battalion of Cape Town army reservists, from the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) Alpha company, will join other regiments in the summer months.
With smuggling running rife in the area, the Dukes have been called in to bring down the syndicates that move drugs, contraband and rhino horns over the border.
“It’s going to be a rough six months,” Captain Mark van Zyl told the Cape Argus.
Van Zyl is Alpha company’s official commander but will be handing over command to Major Robin Collins for the duration of the deployment.
As a group of regiments, married under the banner of a composite battalion known as the 21 SA Infantry Battalion, they will police 250km of wild territory along the South African and Swaziland border - stretching from Josefdal in the north to KwaZulu-Natal in the south.
One company will be in the Kruger National Park where poachers are most prevalent.
Border control duties were recently handed over from the police to the SA National Defence Force.
Since 2012, reservists have been deployed as part of border protection operations and will be on the increase in support of the regular force component.
As a result, they will have full policing rights in the 10km strip from the South African border.
Van Zyl said it was almost like a war zone. With smugglers moving through the area on an almost daily basis there was potential for dangerous standoffs.
Some smugglers were armed, and those that were not had stashes of money to try to bribe their way to safety, he said.
“This is big money we are talking about. This is why we tell our guys that as soon as they are out there their lives are in danger.”
The battalion currently active in the area had exchanged gunfire during standoffs with smugglers, he said.
During the Cape Town Rifles combined battalion’s previous duties on the Limpopo border in 2012 contraband valued at about R20 million had been seized.
Van Zyl said he was proud to have been part of that operation and hoped the company could emulate that in its next tour of duty.
The battalion would focus on preventing undocumented travellers from crossing the border into South Africa and vice versa, he said.
It would also be on the lookout for drug mules smuggling narcotic substances such as dagga, which was commonplace in the area.
Van Zyl said teams would be on standby to assist park rangers in the Kruger Park to nab poachers if required.
The park has already lost 370 rhinos this year, following an almost systematic slaughter of the animals last year when poachers killed more than 1 000 for their horns.
Van Zyl said that human trafficking was also a problem.
The composite battalion is due to spend six months stationed on the border, returning to Cape Town next April.
“These operations will see the company deploy in harsh and extreme weather conditions with an ever-present threat to life of each deployed soldier,” Van Zyl said.
“The deployed members will also be away from their loved ones over the festive season.”