Soldiers on the South Africa/Zimbabwe border over the festive season had their hands full detaining just short of two thousand undocumented persons (illegal immigrants) in the five week period between 15 December and 15 January.
This was more than half of the total number of undocumented people stopped by soldiers deployed along South Africa’s other land borders with Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
All told, 2 908 people trying to enter South Africa illegally were stopped by soldiers doing border protection in terms of the Operation Corona tasking.
With widespread unrest the order of the day in Zimbabwe over the last two weeks, indications are the number of people attempting to reach South Africa will increase. This was borne out this week by an inspection at the Beit Bridge border post.
MP Jacques Julius, Democratic Alliance (DA) immigration spokesman, said at Beit Bridge the “already compromised immigration system is crumbling under the pressure of thousands seeking refuge as they run away from what has become a nightmare in their own country”.
He said the situation in Zimbabwe has developed into a humanitarian crisis which will “no doubt exacerbate an already broken South African immigration system” referring to legal entry points. Department of Home Affairs officials at Beit Bridge reportedly told Julius more than 130 000 people crossed the border into South Africa in a single day early in January.
Julius previously visited other border entry points where, among others, he spoke with soldiers who said they were not deployed in sufficient numbers to stop all those entering the country without documentation.
“It is imperative that our borders are adequately resourced and prepared for an expected influx of Zimbabweans.”
Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton, SO1, Operational Communication at SANDF Joint Operations Division, said the coming round of Operation Corona statistics would indicate whether there was an increase in the number of Zimbabweans entering South Africa illegally.
Notable seizures during the year-end festive season included 499 head of cattle valued at over R4 million on the Lesotho/South Africa border and 345 kg of dagga confiscated on the same border. Soldiers also recovered 19 vehicles with an estimated value of just on R4 million, bound for either chop shops or buyers in neighbouring countries.