By Jonisayi Maromo
Pretoria — South Africa’s main opposition on Friday criticised that country’s Public Works and Infrastructure minister for the massive expenditure amounting to R37 million for the construction of a 40km Beibridge border fence that was quickly damaged.
“South African taxpayers have forked out a whopping R37 million for what is effectively a ‘washing line’ to keep Covid-19 from reaching South Africa from Zimbabwe.
“Almost R1 million per kilometre was spent on a 1.8-metre-high wire fence meant to halt illegal border crossings into South Africa along the Beitbridge border post,” said the Democratic Alliance’s Samantha Graham-Maré.
Graham-Maré said the announcement by Patricia de Lille (pictured right), that repairs totalling R37m would be effected to 40km of the border fence, should have signalled a new era in tackling South Africa’s “almost non-existent border” with Zimbabwe.
“It would have ensured that kilometres of fencing stolen for animal kraals around the Beitbridge border area would have been replaced and restored,” she said.
“According to the minister, all emergency procurement protocols had been adhered to.
“A contractor had been duly appointed to do a fast-track job to secure our country against the movement of undocumented illegals with the potential to infect South Africans.
“Regrettably, within days, pictures emerged of gaping holes in the new fence. Reports of stolen fence posts followed.
“The minister responded that there would be increased security around the fence to ensure that there were no more breaches.
“What sort of border fence did we procure that required its own security?
“What quality of material was used that it can barely withstand a wire-cutter, and who drafted the specifications for this fence?
“A game fence on an ordinary game farm stands between 1.8 metres and 2.4 metres high.”
The DA pointed out that a border fence, such as the one erected on the Morocco-Spain border, was6m high.
“This border fence, costing R37 million, should be impenetrable — and built to last. It clearly is not.
“The minister has subsequently backtracked on her earlier assertions that the appointment of Caledon River Properties trading as Magwa Construction was within the procurement guidelines of the declared national state of disaster,” said Graham-Maré.
“In addition, the department has admitted to having deviated from procurement processes by appointing Magwa Construction through a nomination process.
“After stoically defending the appointment, the minister has now requested an audit into the entire project by the attorney-general.
“We can only hope that their audit will also reveal the basis on which Magwa Construction was selected above other, more well-known companies.”
On Friday, the DA said it had submitted questions to De Lille about the appointment of the contractor as well as the specifications of the fence and the value for money that South African taxpayers received.
“If the purpose of the fence was merely a temporary cessation of the influx of illegal immigrants to protect our populace against Covid-19, then perhaps the fence built would have been sufficient.
“But it was not. It has been hailed as the new border fence between South Africa and Zimbabwe,” said Graham-Maré.
“Sadly, minister de Lille’s fence is a R37 million band-aid on a bullet wound.
“If we are going to protect our borders, we need a ‘snake of fire’, not a washing line costing almost R1 million per kilometre.”
In March, de Lille announced that the construction of a new fence at the Beitbridge border between South Africa and Zimbabwe was beginning and would be completed within 40 days.
“In terms of Section 27 (2) (l) of the Disaster Management Act, No. 57 of 2002, I have invoked emergency procurement procedures in relation to the erection and repairs of the border fences, east and west of the Beitbridge border post,” De Lille said at the time.
The step followed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation when he declared a national state of disaster in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, saying that the country’s borders would be secured.