The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has welcomed the passing of the Border Management Authority (BMA) Bill by the National Assembly.
According to a DHA statement: “the establishment of the BMA represents a radical shift from the colonial and apartheid systems that were informed by a desire and mission to create and sustain racism, hostilities and hatred among the people rather than dignified migration”.
The Bill now goes to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for processing. Once the legislative process is complete the country will be ready to establish an integrated border management authority, according to government news agency SANews.
The establishment of the BMA, which will be the controlling authority in all matters pertaining to management of ports of entry, goes back to 2013. At that time indications were border protection in terms of particularly the land border would also fall within its ambit, but this has not materialised.
There is, as yet, no indication of personnel numbers but Home Affairs Minister Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize last month told parliament the BMA would have “border guards”. She did not give any further details apart from telling MPs there was concern about the nature of powers to be given to these border guards to conduct routine searches but did not indicate from where they would be drawn or whether they would be specially recruited.
Once it is established and operational, expected still to be this year, the BMA will take over management of South Africa’s 72 ports of entry, covering the air, land and sea borders. All government departments and agencies currently involved in aspects of border control and management will fall under BMA control. These currently are the national departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Defence; Environmental Affairs; Health; Home Affairs; Public Works; Transport and the State Security Agency as well as the SA Police Services and SA Revenue Service.
“When fully established, the BMA will play an important role at the frontline of South Africa’s borders,” the DHA statement said. Illustrating this is that the BMA Bill is underpinned by imperatives ranging from giving the country a new policy paradigm of integrated border management to a determination to facilitate legal and secure movement of people and goods across South African borders, SANews said.
The government news agency goes on to say the BMA will “close the chapter on porous borders bedevilling the country over the years and will in great measure roll back the frontiers of corruption hitherto fuelled by fragmented border management.
“The BMA will help in preventing, among others, drug-related crimes, human trafficking, illegitimate movement of goods and unauthorised movement of persons.”
The thousands of kilometres of land border between official ports of entry remain the preserve of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). As tasked by Operation Corona there are currently 15 companies, mainly from Reserve Force units, patrolling the land borders with Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The Department of Defence plans to raise this number to 22 over a period of years but this is not likely to happen if current funding levels for the South African military keep on reducing in real terms.