Border heavy lifting remains military responsibility, with border guards at and around ports of entry


The latest addition to the South African government’s security quiver – its Border Management Authority (BMA) – will seemingly operate at and around ports of entry, with the nitty-gritty of border protection via patrols, observation posts and intelligence gathering remaining a SA National Defence Force (SANDF) tasking.

This came to light in a written reply by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to a Parliamentary question asked by Adrian Roos. He is Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for the home affairs portfolio and an outspoken critic of the BMA, especially regarding its cost, both of establishment and subsequently, administration and operations.

Roos asked Motsoaledi for details of the differences in responsibilities between the “200 border patrol staff” recently taken into service by the BMA and the SANDF. Soldiers, mostly from infantry battalions and SA Army Reserve Force units, do the border protection hard yards as per the national Operation Corona tasking. At present this sees 15 companies, referred to as sub-units in some official reports and statements, responsible for South Africa’s 4 773 km of land border. In his reply to Roos, Motsoaledi has it 13 companies currently have this duty.

Motsoaledi’s reply, in true government-speak, states: “As clearly captured in the South African Constitution and the Defence Act, the responsibility of members of the Defence Force is to protect and safeguard the country’s territorial integrity through the patrolling of the 4 773 kilometres of the land border areas, including the maritime coastline. They have currently deployed 13 companies to fulfil this responsibility through the application of high mobility patrol mechanism from on point to the other (sic)”.

The Minister elaborates: “Therefore, as for the Border Guards, it should be noted that our sub-region has a number of inter-linked communities whereby the border fence had divided them into two halves. For instance, in the North West Province, there are Batswana on the South African side and the Batswana on the Botswana side. In Mpumalanga, there are communities with Ba-Swati on the South African side and Ba-Swati on the eSwatini side. In the Free State, there are Basotho on the South African side and the Basotho on the Lesotho side. Therefore, this situation means that there is a lot of civilian activities taking place between South Africa and its immediate neighbours (sic)”.

“These activities have been taking place in those areas for centuries. Therefore, at this point our concern is the fact that those areas have been hijacked by criminal elements who are then moving counterfeit goods through those communities for their own nefarious gain (sic).

“It is for this reason that the BMA Border Guards would be statically deployed in those communities to monitor their activities with the intention to decisively deal with any criminal elements taking advantage of the situation. Further, the BMA would be registering those kind of areas and declaring them as Informal Community Crossing Points and statically deploy the Border Guards for monitoring those civilian activities (sic).”

Going further on border guard responsibilities, the ministerial response has it: “There are certain areas outside the communities along the borderline which are being exploited by criminal elements for advancing their illegal activities. In this case, members of the SANDF and the Border Guards would collectively identify such areas (known as vulnerable segments of the border line) and get the latter to be statically deployed in those segments.

“This approach seeks to enable members of SANDF to freely apply their high mobility deployment mechanism while areas of concern are properly protected by the Border Guards.

“Further, since the Border Guards would have immigration, agricultural and environmental legal empowerment amongst other prescript, the SANDF would be able to hand over intercepted civilians to the Border Guards for processing (e.g. finger printing, declaring them undesirable and effecting deportations).

“Lastly, the BMA Act empowers the Border Guards to effectively protect the Port of Entry, including its 10 kilometres radius to detect any traveller who avoid using the port for whatever reasons. The deployment of the Border Guards to the borderline does not seek to compete with the deployed members of the SANDF (sic).”

Minister Motsoaledi does not give any indication of which ports of entry, for example, Beitbridge or Lebombo, will be manned by border guards. He does give three “performance areas”.

They are “general border management activities and security services to ensure effective and efficient border management”; controlling movement of goods and people at identified ports and segments; and, controlling “access/egress” at ports of entry and in the “border law enforcement area”. This is understood to be, but not stated in the reply, a 10 km area around a port of entry.