BMA effectivity questioned

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The newest addition to South Africa’ security architecture – the Border Management Authority (BMA) – came under fire for not putting the brakes on illegal immigrants during the Home Affairs budget vote in Parliament this month (May).

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow deputy minister for Aaron Motsoaledi’s home affairs portfolio Adrian Roos said the BMA is “an authority capacitated with millionaire managers and 200 so-called border guards”. He asked Minister Motsoaledi why the country doesn’t hear about “mass arrests” by them.

“If undocumented foreign nationals are streaming in, why don’t we hear about mass arrests by these 200 border guards? If they are posted at our border posts, why do we receive daily complaints of corruption and lack of staff at Lebombo and Oshoek?” Roos asked Motsoaledi.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) via its Joint Operations Division has what Lieutenant General Siphiwe Sangweni calls “cordial relations” with the BMA. The Joint Operations Chief told a May Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meeting there were “no challenges thus far” with soldiers instructed to assist BMA personnel “secure the border”. According to Sangweni, border guards are positioned at eight “vulnerable community crossing points”. He listed them as Qacha’s Neck in Eastern Cape, Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg in Free State, Kosi Bay and Sani Pass in KwaZulu-Natal, Oshoek and Komatipoort (Lebombo) in Mpumalanga and Beitbridge in Limpopo.

The only listing of BMA successes, according to the Authority’s website, was in November when “a number or arrests” were made by the first “cohort” of 200 border guards. Since then South Africa has gone through two major holiday periods – year-end and Easter – both unreported by the BMA. The website did make known its “formal establishment as a Schedule 3A public entity” and an “engagement” with the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC).

That the national defence force will remain as the primary land border protector can be seen from what Sangweni told the defence oversight committee on a “whole of government approach” to border security. This would include opening up/establishing patrol roads along the entire land border and installing more Jersey barriers to hinder stolen vehicles exiting the country. South Africa’s total land border length is 2 798 km. The longest country border is 1 840km with Botswana, followed by Namibia (967km), Lesotho (909km), Mozambique (491km), Eswatini (430km) and Zimbabwe (225km).

Additionally, Joint Operations would like a “more robust approach” to the borderline with government owning a portion of land along the borderline, either as s servitude or restricted zone “exclusively” controlled by Cabinet’s security cluster.

Financial implications make it unlikely there will be any increase from the current 15 companies deployed under Operation Corona. When the SANDF was handed the border protection tasking with the SA Police Service (SAPS) not executing it with any success, the SANDF originally planned to have 22 companies of mostly infantry deployed at any one time.

Last week Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence heard that the serious underfunding of the Defence Force emerged as a constant concern from multiple presentations to the Committee by various divisions of the SANDF. The potential risk to national security that the lack of funding posed, motivated the Chairpersons of the Joint Intelligence and the Joint Defence Committees to approach the President directly. The matter is now receiving attention at the Presidential level and additional funding will be made available in the 2024/2025 financial year to adequately equip the Defence Force for border patrols, including with radars, patrol vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles etc.