New Border Management Authority is a boost for our country’s security and development

Maintaining the integrity of our country’s borders is key if we are to realise the aspiration of every South African to live in peace and harmony with ourselves and our neighbours. It is a daunting undertaking.

Our land border is over 4,800 km long and is shared with six countries. We have 53 land ports of entry, 11 international airports and 8 sea ports. The launch last week of the country’s first integrated, unified Border Management Authority (BMA) is therefore a milestone in the necessary effort to secure our borders. 

The challenges we face on our borders are both historical and contemporary. The apartheid regime flagrantly disregarded the sovereignty of neighbouring countries to conduct illegal cross-border raids. It abused immigration measures to harass its opponents, and enforced hated policies like influx control and the exploitation of labour from the region.

 It was the priority of the democratic government elected in 1994 to progressively reform the border management and migration regime, not just in the interests of economic growth and development, but also so that these reforms should reflect the broader values of the new state. 

The democratic government has worked to uphold the right of citizens to freedom of movement and residence, as well as the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers under international conventions. It also sought to deepen trade and investment between South Africa and other Southern African countries, and contribute to the political and economic integration of the African continent. Over time, however, the complexities of border management have resulted in an uncoordinated approach by the various authorities.

One of the challenges has been the sheer number of government departments and entities involved in this work. The absence of a central authority led to fragmentation of efforts and made it difficult to enforce accountability. This in turn rendered our borders vulnerable. 

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has noted that South Africa has become an important transit route for organised criminal networks involved in human trafficking, drugs and small arms smuggling and various other forms of cross-border crime. It has also noted that as the economic powerhouse of the region, South Africa continues to attract economic migrants who are undocumented, especially from the SADC region.

 The proliferation of cross-border crime, illicit trade and illegal migration as a result of porous borders presents a serious threat to our national security and economy. It also places strain on already stretched resources and public services, and fuels social instability.

We have in recent times seen anti-foreigner sentiment resulting in acts of violence and harassment. As country, we must condemn without reservation all acts of violence against foreign nationals, regardless of their immigration status, and work together to prevent such acts. At the same time, we must recognise that South Africans are justifiably concerned about illegal migration. Like any sovereign nation, we have the right to guarantee the integrity of our borders and provide that all who reside in our borders have a legal right to be here.

Those who have sought refuge in South Africa or wish to live and work here are subject to immigration regulations and must adhere to the country’s laws. The Border Management Authority is tasked with ensuring that our country’s immigration laws are enforced, and that our borders are well-protected and ports of entry well-managed.

 The new authority is now the third armed service in South Africa after the South African Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Service (SAPS). The first officers of the new BMA border guard were deployed in July this year at vulnerable segments of the border, including at informal crossings.

Although they will be conducting border law enforcement functions, including access control, the SANDF remains responsible for border protection and safeguarding. With this new structure in place, we will also be able to better prevent the illegal importation and exit of goods, curb illegal migration and human smuggling, and combat cross-border crime. The BMA will take on the work of several other departments and agencies and is already working with the South African Revenue Service, SAPS and SANDF to integrate border management functions.

 The establishment of the BMA is a significant step towards safer communities, better law enforcement and the growth of our economy through greater trade with our neighbours. Ensuring our borders are well-managed and well-protected is key to the security and development of our country.

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