Lesotho and SA hold summit to clamp down on cross-border crime

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South African police minister Bheki Cele is widely seen as one of the most public members of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet being present at crime scenes across the country, attending victim funerals – police and civilian – as well as taking a leading role in imbizos and other anti-crime initiatives.

He started March with cross-border crime – a national issue where police alongside soldiers and Department of Home Affairs immigration officials with SA Revenue Service (SARS) customs officers and the newest addition to the nation’s security architecture in the form of the Border Management Authority (BMA) – hold sway.

Cele’s specific focus was cross-border crime with landlocked Lesotho, described in a statement by Police Ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba, as “a stubborn pursuit” to halt numerous offences taking place between the two countries. These range from the illegal transit of “undocumented persons”, better known as illegal immigrants, to smuggling of particularly dagga from the mountain kingdom to South African users as well as livestock rustling and what is now termed “illegal grazing” by national defence force communications officers.

A Police Ministry statement on the 2/3 March meeting in Maseru has it he safety of Basuto and South African “inhabitants” and their property was the priority item on the agenda for the high level South African law enforcement delegation. With Cele were National Police Commissioner, General Fannie Masemola, and “the SAPS (SA Police Service) management team”.

They, the statement continues, “openly engaged the Lesotho Minister of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police, Lebona Lephema and his delegation, on matters related to the multiplicity of cross border crimes”.

The statement has Lephema saying: “The cornerstone of our deliberations is to use what we have achieved in the past and work on what must be fine-tuned to better combat crime in our countries’ borders and within. It is clear an effective emigration system is key in the fight against cross-border crimes. Our deliberations have concluded to put in place a permit regime to close any loopholes that exist in the buying and selling of stock to limit stock theft”.

“Safe, orderly and humane” movement of people between Lesotho and South Africa was also up for discussion during the summit.

“Guided by previous bilateral agreements and obligations, the Maseru talks tackled issues ranging from the establishment of the Boarder (sic) Management Authority (BMA) and immigration related matters. Other cross cutting issues included illegal mining, stock and car theft, human trafficking and the smuggling of persons, illicit goods and firearms between the two countries.

“As a strategy to prevent some cross border crimes, both countries agreed to intensify information sharing and co-ordination between law enforcement agencies, to identify shared threats, while developing a database on Persons of Interest,” according to Themba’s statement.

“We remain stubborn in our pursuit of safety and justice beyond our borders and remain resolute that criminals will not run amok between Lesotho and South Africa, without any repercussions.

“This is why we agreed to conduct joint policing operations that allow for better crime detection and infiltration of criminal gangs in pursuit of justice. This will among others, include the development of an intelligence sharing agreement and establish intelligence sharing platforms between South Africa and Lesotho.”

Agreements signed following the summit will be incorporated into a memorandum of agreement (MOA). This which will then be signed at Ministerial level and later endorsed at presidential level by the respective Heads of State – Lesotho Prime Minister Sam Matekane and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) recently had an own border security engagement with Botswana, being responsible for border security under Operation Corona.

In 2016, the Botswana Defence Force and the SANDF established an operational liaison committee, with the first meeting in April 2017. The latest meeting was earlier this year between Joint Operations Tactical Headquarters North West and the BDF. North West, Northern Cape and Limpopo share a common border with Botswana and have a common interest to maintain communication with Botswana’s armed forces to enhance operations along the common border.