Border Guards rack up first successes

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Border Management Authority (BMA) Border Guards have already recorded a number of successes since being deployed to safeguard South Africa’s borders, including recovering stolen vehicles and seizing drugs and guns.

Dr Mike Masiapato, BMA Commissioner, gave an update to Parliament’s Home Affairs Portfolio Committee on the latest developments towards the operationalisation of the BMA on 22 November. He explained that Border Guards are deployed along Lesotho’s borders with the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape; Eswatini and Mozambique’s borders with KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga; and Zimbabwe’s border with Limpopo.

Masiapato told the Committee that since deployment at ports of entry and vulnerable segments of the borderline, Border Guards have ‘sanitized’ the inner and outer perimeters of the ports of entry, intercepted dagga (at Oshoek on the Eswatini border), seized firearms (at Sani pass along the Lesotho border), forged relationships with farmers in Lesotho to address stock theft, and intercepted 27 stolen vehicles at the Beit Bridge and Lebombo border posts.

The first 200 BMA Border Guards were officially deployed in July this year after recruitment and training. They were deployed along five vulnerable segments of the borderline, working together with members of the South African National Defence Force.

The BMA will be fully established by 1 April 2023 through the integration of five streams of functions performed by various government departments – Home Affairs; Forestry, Fisheries and Environment; Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and Health. This includes access control functions conducted by members of the SA Police Service in the ports of entry. At present the BMA is being incubated as a branch of the Department of Home Affairs.

The Department of Home Affairs will transfer 1 285 staff to the BMA for ports of entry management; the National Department of Health will transfer 339 staff for ports of entry health functions; the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment will transfer 14 staff for fauna and flora biosecurity; and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development will transfer 372 staff for agriculture/plants functions, giving a total head count of 2 010 staff. The BMA will have one national office, four regional offices, and 72 ports of entry offices.

Retired Major General David Chilembe, Deputy Commissioner: Operations, Border Management Authority, told Parliament that the BMA is increasing security over the festive season, with a heightened presence between 7 December and 11 January. He noted that there have been frequent ‘incidents’ reported during peak periods that have impacted on the integrity of border security.

“These risks and vulnerabilities do not only have an effect on port operations, but also have a potential impact on national security as the porousness of the borders allow for uncontrolled movement of people, some of whom may be wanted fugitives, and prohibited goods,” his presentation to the Home Affairs committee noted.

Over the festive season period, the operational hours of the ports of entry will be extended, and over 250 extra Department of Home Affairs personnel will be deployed. The South African Police Service (SAPS) will provide approximately 150 public order police members to Beit Bridge, Lebombo, Oshoek, Maseru Bridge, Ficksburg, and Groblers Bridge. For its part, SARS/Customs will provide 30 extra personnel to Lebombo, Beit Bridge, Ficksburg, Oshoek, and Kopfontein. The South African National Defence Force has companies deployed along the borders with Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia.

The BMA was established through the Border Management Authority Act of 2020 to provide a single authority for border management with a single command and control. Its mandate is to secure borders for development through people and trade facilitation, enhanced tourism, countering illicit trade, human smuggling and trafficking.

When fully established, the BMA will play a pivotal role in tackling border security challenges impacting on the country and its neighbours, such as uncoordinated traveller processing, cross-border criminality, illegal crossings and undue delays in the facilitation of movement of goods and services. The BMA model will pave the way for the creation of smart border posts and systems and advance trade facilitation in the region, the Department of Home Affairs said.