Representatives of five Parliamentary committees making up the Cabinet security cluster are this week in KwaZulu-Natal on an extended oversight visit to assess border safeguarding.
What the Parliamentary Communication Service has termed an “unprecedented and inaugural cluster oversight” will see MPs be briefed on and visit land, maritime and air border control points.
First stop on the visit was King Shaka International Airport where the group was briefed and inspected facilities pertinent to the movement of foreigners in and out of South Africa.
The second part of the oversight visit will see the group split into two for visits to and briefings on the Port of Durban, Naval Station Durban, Richards Bay harbour and airport as well as the Kosi Bay port of entry, iSimangaliso, Pongola and the Golela port of entry.
Representatives from the portfolio committees for Police, Defence and Military Veterans, Home Affairs and International Relations as well as the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence are on the visit which, one day in, was described as “not really being worth the time” by opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais.
He said the oversight visit was concentrating on recognised ports of entry into South Africa.
“What should be looked at are the thousands of kilometres between official entry points. This is where people come and go without the necessary documentation, where contraband is moved into the country and where stolen vehicles are taken out of South Africa,” he said, adding questions posed to SA National Defence Force officers showed there is “simply not enough manpower and equipment to do a proper job of border protection”.
“Soldiers deployed on border protection cannot be proactive because there are simply not enough of them. Reaction to incidents of illegal border crossings and transport of contraband and/or stolen goods are reasonably successful but one has no idea of how much actually comes in or leaves South Africa.”
The visit started a working week after the closing date for comment on the Border Management Agency (BMA) draft bill.
It contains definitions, applications and the act’s purpose as well as sections pertinent to the establishment, function and structure of the BMA.
The purpose of the act is to exercise border law enforcement functions; manage legitimate movement of persons and goods across borderlines and at ports of entry; co-ordinate with “other organs of state, through the principles of co-operative governance” the functions performed by them in border management and provide “an enabling environment to facilitate legitimate trade”.
One of the BMA’s functions, as set out in the draft bill, is to perform border law enforcement functions “within the borderline and at ports of entry”. According to the act, borderline is South Africa’s land border, 10km or any reasonable distance from the country’s internationally recognised borders; the South African exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is the maritime border and the air borderline is excluded with the proviso that the SANDF will assume border law enforcement and border protection responsibility here.
One of the envisaged structures of the BMA is a border guard which ties in with a statement made by Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, in December. He said both a border guard and a coast guard would become reality as part of the BMA.
Marais said he, along with other DA public representatives, had sent comments on the BMA draft to the Department of Home Affairs.
“To my mind the proposed legislation does not have sufficient details and it appears government, or at least those responsible for formulating the draft bill, are not all that serious about border protection. It’s almost as if it is another ‘tick the boxes’ exercise.”