Are South African cabinet members kept safer than the country’s borders? This is what the leader of the country’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, claimed on a tour of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.
“Today there is more VIP security for cabinet members than there are security personnel manning our border gates,” Mmusi Maimane is reported to have told supporters in Pietermaritzburg.
This is similar to what Maimane said shortly after being elected DA leader in May. In an SABC2 interview, he pleaded for border control to be strengthened by saying that “there are more VIP protectors for ministers than there are … armies in the border” (sic).
Does the DA frontman have it right?
5,374 VIP security personnel vs. 3,630 soldiers – DA
Maimane’s spokesman, Mabine Seabe, told Africa Check that 1,998 personnel were part of a South African Police Service group guarding “very important people” (VIPs) when they were on the move.
In addition, 3,376 police members were part of a group tasked with guarding places such as national and provincial department buildings, legislatures and some ministerial residences. This gives a total of 5,374.
VIPs include current and former presidents, current and former deputy presidents, members of cabinet, foreign heads of state, their spouses and “other identified VIPs”, according to the police’s latest annual report and police spokesman, Solomon Makgale.
By comparison, Seabe said that Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula had stated in her budget vote speech in May that “by the end 2015/2016 there will be 22 companies made up of 165 personnel [each] guarding the country’s borders”. According to him, this would total 3,630 soldiers.
Seabe told Africa Check that Maimane was referring to land borders only. He added that Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene proposed redirecting R30 million from detective services to VIP protection.
“If this proposal is approved, the number of glorified handbag holders is likely to increase noticeably and further exceed the deployment at our borders,” he said.
But DA leaders get ‘glorified handbag holders’ too
According to the police’s 2013/14 annual report, protection services are extended to 74 national and 126 provincial officials.
The DA’s communication director, Matthew Gerstner, confirmed that some of their leaders are protected by security personnel in the Western Cape province, where the party governs.
“The law requires Premier Helen Zille and members of the Western Cape cabinet to have a minimum level of security, which they insist is kept to a minimum,” said Gerstner.
This, he said, is done on the basis of “saving costs to the state”.
Exact number of VIP guards ‘confidential’
Both the South African police and the defence force did not want to disclose the exact number of people currently tasked with guarding VIPs and the border. Makgale said the number was “confidential”, while the defence force’s Xolani Mabanga cited “security reasons”.
Africa Check found the 2014 National Budget stated that the number of VIP guards totalled 5,374 in the 2012/13 reporting year (the figure cited by the DA), while it was expected to have increased to 5,413 in 2013/14.
The defence minister’s budget vote speech, cited by the DA in support of Maimane’s claim, noted that “budgetary constraints” have prevented the number of military companies being increased from 13 to 22 by the end of 2015/16. Instead, the defence force now aims to increase it to 15 companies.
Mabanga did confirm that there are still only 13 companies doing border duty. Africa Check then asked John Stupart, managing editor of the African Defence Review and the South African correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, Helmoed Heitman, to provide an estimate of the number of soldiers in a company.
Stupart said the number varies between 120 and 200 soldiers. Heitman estimated that each company consists on average of 160 soldiers.
This would put the number of soldiers protecting South African borders between 1,560 and 2,600 – far less than the DA’s estimate of 3,630 soldiers.
Police also protect SA’s borders
However, Stupart pointed out that police members are also stationed at the country’s borders.
Home Affairs spokesman Thabo Mokgola told Africa Check that 5,653 police members “are directly engaged in ports of entry including land, sea and air”. Of these, 2,223 police members do duty at South Africa’s land border posts.
Therefore between 3,783 and 4,823 security personnel are currently protecting South Africa’s land borders. This is at least 590 less than those tasked with guarding VIPs and the places where they work or reside.
Conclusion: The claim is misleading
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane’s claim that there are “more VIP security for cabinet members than there are security personnel manning our border gates” is misleading in two ways.
Firstly, cabinet members are not the only recipients of the VIP protection. The DA confirmed that former party leader and premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, and her provincial cabinet ministers too are currently protected.
Secondly, members of the police also perform border control in addition to defence force soldiers, who number between 1,560 and 2,600. A total of 5,653 police members are stationed at land, sea and air entry points, with 2,223 of those at land border posts.
When reflecting on border control by only considering land entry points, there are fewer soldiers and police members (between 3,783 and 4,823) at South Africa’s borders than guards for VIPs (5,413 at last count).
However, once sea and air entry points are added, the number of security personnel performing border control increases to at least 7,213, which exceeds those protecting VIPs.
Edited by Kate Wilkinson & Anim van Wyk
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