The only way to protect South Africa’s borders is to develop a clear border control policy – expert

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The South African government has no clear strategy for managing its borders and urgently needs a single border control policy document. With a unified strategy in place, various departments can identify their roles and get on with the job of safeguarding the country from cross-border threats, says Dr Johan Burger.

Burger is a senior researcher in the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. He says that different bodies representing a variety of government departments, such as home affairs, customs, the police etc., are currently tasked with controlling and monitoring South Africa’s borders but because these departments are not well integrated, this causes various problems as each department accuses the other of negligence. “If you have no overall umbrella structure to provide clear guidelines you will always have this problem,” he says.
“There is an absence of policy that sets out the responsibility of government departments,” Burger told defenceWeb. With regard to the borderline, “it appears as if government finds it difficult to find whose responsibility it is. It is the military’s responsibility at the moment,” he adds. “What we need is a policy document that would provide clear guidelines. Everyone needs to be clear about what they have to do.”
“Every country in the world has the right to its national integrity,” Burger says. “We all need to know that our borders are well protected from threats.” One of the main threats to South Africa’s border he identifies is potential military conflict. “We don’t know what the future holds and we need to provide for such a possibility. Immediately, you need to protect borders from criminal activities, organised crime syndicates etc. It is part of the state’s responsibility to fight crime and create a stable South Africa.”
“Thirdly we need to protect our borders from illegal migration,” he says. However, Burger notes that border control alone won’t solve the problem of illegal migration as people will find ways and means of crossing borders. In addition, many people who cross the border are refugees with no criminal intent, making it almost impossible to prosecute these people. “Many people come across come because they are fleeing conflict, hunger, unemployment etc.,” Burger says. “South Africa needs a firm policy – how do we deal with them? Once they are apprehended, illegal as they may be, they have rights.”
“I think what we need to see from government is a clear policy that sets out tasks for border security, from border posts and provision for the maintenance of physical barriers. That is absent at the moment and is causing problems.” Burger also notes the importance of networking with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, as South Africa wants to make trade borders more porous but at the same time keep illegal immigrants out. “It is not only a South African problem, it is an African problem,” he says.

Burger made note of the debacle over the Lesotho border in the Free State. Farmers took the government to court over lack of security along the border there as the physical infrastructure, such as the fence, was either destroyed or absent. In an out-of-court settlement in June last year, an agreement was reached whereby the whole Free State-Lesotho border road would be rebuilt and the border fence replaced at a cost of R5.5 million. Sixteen vehicles, including seven 4x4s, were bought to patrol the border.

Police units who had to patrol the border complained that they didn’t have the vehicles to cover the rough terrain, Burger says. “It wasn’t their responsibility to provide smooth roads. A court had to intervene to force government departments to identify their roles.” The police were forced into accepting they needed vehicles for rugged terrain along the border and other departments acknowledged responsibility for roads and the maintenance of border fences.

James Kerr, Project Manager at Rheinmetall MAN, agrees with Burger regarding the view that policy is of utmost importance, as without it border control solutions cannot be implemented. “Strategy is the core thing,” he told defenceWeb. He added that industry could help government provide border control solutions but that, “We need an integrated solution if we want to go forward.”

Financing is also a problem. “There are a number of solutions available, the question is, with a limited defence budget, can we provide a total solution?” Kerr asked. “The budget is really hampering the way forward.”

Government earlier this month announced that the establishment of a Border Management Agency (BMA) was “receiving due consideration” and will be finalised by 2014. The BMA was first announced in June 2009 but has been postponed for several years.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe last week noted that a task team “has been established to ensure a coordinated and integrated approach is implemented to ensure border post security and borderline integrity.” The justice minister added the task team included the South African Revenue Service – responsible for customs; the Department of Defence, the police, the departments of Public Works and Home Affairs and the State Security Agency.
“We have pledged and committed ourselves to the President and to the country towards curbing any threat to our people’s citizenship and their physical integrity – this extends to our economy and the national territory,” Radebe said. “It remains our continued obligation as a [justice, crime prevention and security] cluster to ensure that the appropriate foundation, reflective of our Constitutional principles and ideals, is laid down and sustained.”

In 2005 the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster created the Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee (BCOCC) to strategically manage the South African border environment. The BCOCC developed the National Integrated Border Management Strategy in 2008, but the organisation has been largely ineffective, prompting the creation of the BMA.

Dr Burger and Kerr will be speaking at the upcoming defenceWeb border conference. Burger will be discussing the extent and impact of cross-border crime on the South African economy. He will also address issues related to border control and the need for strategy and policy.



For more on this subject, consider attending defenceWeb’s Border Control conference at Gallagher Estate on March 8 and 9, 2011. For more information contact Maggie Pienaar at ++27 11 807 3294 or [email protected]