Almost 27,000 people deported and illicit goods intercepted in festive season operation

5-million travellers in 43 days — new Border Management Authority's success story

28 January 2024 - 14:15
By Gill Gifford
Dr Nakampe Micheal Masiapato Commissioner of Border Management Authority (BMA) talks to the Sunday times about the work that he is tasked with as the head of the BMA, 10 October 2023.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi Dr Nakampe Micheal Masiapato Commissioner of Border Management Authority (BMA) talks to the Sunday times about the work that he is tasked with as the head of the BMA, 10 October 2023.

While facilitating the legitimate movement of more than 5-million travellers in and out of South Africa between December 6 2023 and January 18, the newly established Border Management Authority caught 15,924 people trying to enter the country illegally. 

On top of this, they intercepted and seized unauthorised consignments of crayfish, canned meat, infested tins of gammon ham, wheat beer, hazelnut paste and hatching poultry eggs and deported more than 27,000 people. 

Speaking at a press briefing on Sunday to outline the achievements of his unit, Dr Nakampe Masiapato explained the outcomes of the BMA’s 43-day festive season operation. The BMA was recently established by President Cyril Ramaphosa to tackle the issue of illegal migration into South Africa and properly facilitate cross-border movement. 

"(In the 43 days) 5,096,288 travellers crossed our 71 ports of entry, representing an increase of 1-million travellers compared to the 2022/2023 number of 4-million travellers,” Masiapato said, adding the current figure was still 1-million down on pre-Covid numbers.

“In facilitating the movement of these travellers we processed more than 216,594 private vehicles, 21,502 minibus taxis, 6,443 buses and 55,765 trucks through our movement control system. Further, we processed more than 13,050 aircraft through our international airports and about 709 vessels across at our seaports. In addition, about 407 vessels were processed for crew changes through the off-port limit mechanism (which means crew changes without a vessel docking at port) in our maritime environment.”

Most of the travellers were facilitated through OR Tambo International Airport (993,759), followed by Lebombo land port of entry to Mozambique at 755,066, followed by ⁠Beitbridge land port of entry to Zimbabwe at 745,563 travellers. This was an increase of 22% at ORTIA, 24% at Lebombo and 25% at Beitbridge. 

Masiapato said the BMA had been established in response to urgent calls for the government to address the massive influx of illegal migrants. 

During the implementation of the festive plan, the BMA had collaborated with the South African Police Service, South African Revenue Service, South African National Defence Force, Cross Border Road Transport Agency, immigration inspectorate of the department of home affairs and various traffic authorities. 

He said the BMA had detected 15,924 people trying to enter South Africa without the correct documents. 

“After intercepting them, we took their fingerprints, declared them undesirable and banned them from re-entering South African for five years and had them deported,” Masiapato said, adding that most of the offenders were caught at Lebombo and Beitbridge. 

Another 6,455 travellers were denied entry after being declared undesirable. These included people who had committed crimes in other countries and featured on the Interpol red list. In addition, 4,626 people were refused entry for being inadmissible for reasons such as invalid passports, fraudulent visas or failure to produce a valid yellow fever certificate when coming from yellow fever endemic countries. This amounted to a total of 27,005 individuals being deported.

Another challenge, he said, was illegal migrants entering the country by public transport. In one case, a bus stopped before a border post for passengers to get out. The bus then crossed the border with correct documentation, only to stop on the South African side where the passengers suddenly emerged and got back on the bus. 

“During this period, we imposed about 98 administrative fines to various conveyancers especially bus companies to the value of R3,540,000 for transporting illegal migrants ... at the same time, we were able to collect about R 9.8m in outstanding fines from about 25 bus companies,” he said. 

Other successes included border guards arresting 246 criminals and confiscating four tube boats used to aid illegal migrants cross rivers into South Africa and the confiscation of 1.4kg of crystal meth, 3.5kg of dagga, 4g of heroin, 24 Mandrax tablets and 10 dapoxetine tablets. 

Border guards set up more than 450 roadblocks across corridors within a 10km radius of popular entry ports and health specialists screened just under 1.5-million travellers across all ports for various infectious and communicable diseases.

“We have started now and we are still new — we have been going only for about two months. So we are asking South Africans to assist and support us and not use historic issues to bash our current efforts,” Masiapato said.

He added developments were under way to escalate the current R15,000 administrative fine imposed on bus and transport companies for each undocumented traveller they bring into the country to a criminal charge of aiding and abetting illegal migration on top of revoking of their permits.