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Parliament demands answers over poor management of SA's borders

26 January 2021 - 21:11 By andisiwe makinana
Stalled traffic snakes into the distance on the Zimbabwean side of the border as drivers wait to cross into SA at Beitbridge. File image.
Stalled traffic snakes into the distance on the Zimbabwean side of the border as drivers wait to cross into SA at Beitbridge. File image.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The National Assembly's home affairs portfolio committee wants answers to what led to the congestion at two of the country's busiest land border posts in December.

MPs have argued that the congestion at the Beitbridge border on December 23 and 26 could have led to a humanitarian crisis.

The committee visited three border posts — Beitbridge, Lebombo and Mbuzini — this month, where they saw first-hand the congestion and the numbers of undocumented foreigners illegally entering the country. MPs also witnessed poor adherence to Covid-19 regulations, they said.

Department officials briefed MPs about the situation at each entry port.

“It is recommended that a multi-department investigation led by the department of home affairs should be conducted on what went wrong during the festive season.

“The outcomes of the inquiry should form part of the borderline operational plan during the peak period and times of crisis such as Covid-19,” said the committee in its oversight report adopted on Tuesday.

The committee found that:

  • There were fewer people who crossed both the Beitbridge and Lebombo ports of entry than in 2019, but there was still congestion;

  • Home affairs did not have time frames on what needs to be done;

  • There was no commitment shown by home affairs to fund and operationalise the border management authority. The Border Management Authority Bill, which was signed into law in July 2020, provides for the establishment of the authority which will, as an objective of the act, replace about 18 government departments and agencies that play different roles in border control;

  • There was no political will to resolve the issue at the borders;

  • There is no joint planning and co-ordination among the government departments and state organs operating at the ports of entry;

  • There is little evidence of co-operation between the South African government and the six neighbouring countries with respect to finding common ground on border management and security. MPs said this meant if one country closed its borders, innocent citizens get caught in the middle;

  • The second-busiest land border post, Lebombo, does not operate 24 hours a day, which adds to the congestion; and

  • The department of home affairs, which is responsible for managing entry and exit into the country was not co-ordinating other stakeholders at the borders and this meant there was no leadership and no accountability at the operational level of border management.

The committee called for “political will” to resolve the challenges at the border posts, saying there needed to be a commitment by the SA government to fund and make the Border Management Act operational.

They have called on home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi to present an implementation plan with time frames as soon as possible.

MPs tasked the department to co-ordinate other government departments and state organs operating at the border to ensure enough staff is deployed to deal with testing and to ensure that Covid-19 protocols are adhered to.

MPs also tasked Motsoaledi with engaging his SA development community (SADC) counterparts to ensure smooth operation at the ports of entry during peak seasons.

“It is evident that no amount of border security deterrence will prevent illegal immigrants crossing into SA. The most crucial border security and management instrument is to promote political stability, good governance, and economic growth in the SADC region,” reads the report.

It said SA, through available multilateral forums and international relations instruments, should endeavour to assist the region in improving its socio-economic conditions.

“This will require political will and determination from the country’s executive,” said MPs.