Border control


A not-so-recent National Intelligence Estimate warned that the single most important (national) security challenge facing the South African government was the poor state of border security. Five years later a slew of structures, policies and strategies devised to address this has apparently had little effect.

The latest changes, announced last year, was President Jacob Zuma’s announcement in his June State-of-the-Nation address of the creation of a Border Management Agency (BMA). A second, equally significant change, was the decision to return the borderline control and patrol function to the defence force, reversing a decision taken by the administration of President Thabo Mbeki in 2003 to hand the function back to the police (as was the case up to 1987).

The trouble is several months have passed since both announcements and nary a word more has been said about either.

This is disconcerting.

It is common cause SA has a plethora of other security problems that need urgent attention – principally the twin-headed monster of poverty and unemployment and its cousins, crime as well as a dysfunctional education system. Judging from the ruling African National Congress’ January 8 statement and media reports about the various makgotla (“think scrums”, caucuses) since then, these issues are clearly on Zuma’ agenda.

But neither the January 8 statement nor the reports emanating from the makgotla hint at Zuma tackling the nation’s major national security lacuna – border control. One hopes he will in his February 11 State-of-the-Nation address.

In the meantime, preparations for defenceWeb‘s border control conference (March 17 & 18 at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, Gauteng) are well in hand. The conference is a result of a suggestion by the defence force’s chief director operations, Rear Admiral Philip Schöultz, at our peacekeeping event that the time was opportune for a debate on the matter.

At issue is best practice in border control – not only for SA – but also elsewhere in Africa, where porous borders are the general rule, not the exception.

To me the big question is what the SA BMA will look like and what its authority as well as mandate and budget will be. Looking at the bigger picture, can the SA BMA be a template for Africa? To me the answer is self-evident. Not only could it be, it should be.
Stilus Gladius Meus Est