Cape Town — South African soldiers, posted on the SA-Mozambican border to conduct border security patrols, seized 22 poachers and confiscated 19 hunting rifles and AK-47s between April last year and March this year.
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu, briefing media before her Budget Vote in Parliament on Thursday, said these poachers had been referred to the Hawks for further investigation.
The soldiers had also shot and killed 11 poachers in the last financial year.
She described the situation that soldiers found when they arrived in the Kruger National Park, as “dire”.
The soldiers had initially been posted on the SA-Mozambican border as part of government’s strategy to secure South Africa’s borders – but were later assigned to anti-rhino poaching units in the Kruger National Park.
Sisulu said the last phase of the borderline control strategy would be rolled out this year, when soldiers are sent to patrol the border with Lesotho.
Turning to other issues, the minister said the department had from today taken over the Mthatha Airport and would run the airport for the next three financial years.
The airport would, however, remain a commercial airport and the department would enter into a partnership with Airports Company SA (Acsa) to run the airport.
Sisulu said the airport was a gateway for economic development to the Eastern Cape, adding that the Departments of Rural Development and Public Works would further develop the airport.
The department would also conduct an audit of the 450 000 hectares of land that it owns, so that the land could be put to productive use, together with the private sector.
Sisulu said the land has been held in trust by the Department of Public Works, and that her department had been in talks with public works to get it to transfer the land to her department.
Public works had indicated that it would hand over the land soon.
The Department of Defence spends R1.8 billion on estate management that is transferred to Public Works.
Sisulu said the department was discussing with private-sector providers as well as banks to help finance and put up new accommodation for servicemen.
Grievance procedures for the military had been put in place, following work done by a Defence Force Service Commission which includes consultations with state law advisors.
Sisulu said the new military ombud, Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima, who was appointed this month by President Jacob Zuma, would oversee the grievance procedures.
She said the department also wanted to restore the dignity of those in the defence force.
It was for this reason that she would call on all those that had served in the military before to come forward and serve as reserves and participate in Armed Forces Day, to be held annually on 21 February – the day of the sinking of the SS Mendi.
Since the release of the draft of the Defence Review earlier this year, the department has been running imbizos. Sisulu said the imbizos and review would help to publicise more of the workings of the military.
Turning to the R3.5 billion refund that Airbus had paid the National Treasury after the cancellation of the Airbus contract, Sisulu said she had written to the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan to request that the refunded money be allocated to her department, so that the funds could be used for other military programmes.
She said the R3.5 billion could be used by her department to improve conditions for defence force members, boost its maritime strategy and to renew its VIP aircraft fleet.
Sisulu said she had also appealed to the Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba to move state arms manufacturer Denel from public enterprises to her department to improve co-ordination.
The Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla said legislation that will govern military veterans had been gazetted and had come into force last month. Regulations that would govern the implementation of the Act would now be drafted.
Makwetla said R450 million had been budgeted for benefits in the 2012/13 financial year, but added that no benefits had yet been paid out to military veterans under the new dispensation, as the regulations still needed to be finalised and released.
The intention was to put the regulations before Parliament before the middle of the year.
However, Makwetla said the department had been providing health services to older military veterans since 2010 and about 2 500 military veterans were currently on the department’s database to receive health benefits.
He said the department has assisted the umbrella body for military veteran associations to set up bodies across the country.
The Military Veterans Appeal Board and the Military Veterans Advisory Council would be set up this year.
Makwetla said the appeals board was crucial because it would provide recourse to those who had applied to become military veterans but whose status was questionable.
Work would also be done to memorialise those who had fought in the armed struggle, he said.