EDITORIAL | Covid border fence idea had holes in it from the word go
There is no need to fix something that never served its purpose in the first place
Sunday Times Daily visited Beitbridge last April to report on the hastily constructed R37m border fence between SA and Zimbabwe. The trip all but confirmed our suspicions. “We make big holes so we can get suitcases with cigarettes through, and small ones so we can get people and groceries through,” a smuggler remarked casually. A month later, an exasperated minister of public works and infrastructure Patricia de Lille told MPs the fence “was hardly up for one day and the crooks came through with cases of cigarettes and smuggling food”.
That outcome would have been predictable for any average citizen; how it could not have been preempted by those deciding to build the fence is a mystery. What followed was even more predictable: an investigation. The auditor-general was to look into whether SA got value for money from the project and whether due processes were followed in appointing the contractors. The Special Investigating Unit became involved and wanted the contracts with two of the construction companies to be set aside. Fourteen departmental employees faced disciplinary action for misconduct during the procurement and construction of the multimillion-rand border.
Now, almost a year later, the question has arisen: Should we spend even more money to mend the fence? On Tuesday, MPs thankfully made short shrift of De Lille’s department’s plans to do so. Members of parliament’s standing committee of public accounts dismissed a proposal tabled by acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel to “replace the structural supports that were removed, where the fence has not collapsed”. ..