Border control: The plaster on a rotting wound


By Jacques Broodyrk

On 1 April 2023, the Border Management Authority (BMO) 2023 officially began its operations as an independent public entity. The GBO now serves as the third law enforcement agency in South Africa.

The creation of the GBO has profound implications, as it consolidates South Africa’s border management efforts into a unified command and control structure, which is apparently aimed at improving border security, ensuring safe travel and facilitating trade. All of South Africa’s border control points, which consist of eight seaports, 52 land-based ports and 11 international airports, now fall under the competence of the GBO for management and supervision.

The GBO was officially launched on 5 October 2023 by President Cyril Ramaphosa, of course with great fanfare, a hallmark of a government collapsing and clinging to straws of public relations stunts to try and save their reputation.

South Africa has been plagued by cross-border crime for decades. In the post-1994 era, the ANC government launched a large-scale public relations exercise that included the relaxation of control at the country’s borders. Electrified border fences were deactivated, commando units disbanded and the general decline in law enforcement and corrupt activities was quickly seen across the country.

It is now 2023 and South Africa’s borders do not exist for all practical purposes except for those law abiding citizens who still choose to subject themselves to this mythological concept by using border posts to cross into neighboring countries.

The crimes fueled by these open borders include illegal immigration, human trafficking, and the smuggling of firearms, narcotics, explosives, wildlife products, counterfeit goods and of course billions of rand worth of illegal cigarettes. In 2018, it was estimated that cigarette smuggling cost the country R4 billion per year in lost tax revenue.

The criminal networks that have sprung up to facilitate cross-border crime have become highly sophisticated and far-reaching, including key figures on both sides of the border, politicians, taxi operators, law enforcement, customs officials and foot soldiers. As one illegal immigrant from Zimbabwe once told me: “If you have enough money in your pocket, you are guaranteed to come to Johannesburg. If you get caught, you just pay and you’re guaranteed.”

But that’s if you can pay.

Smuggling routes are strictly controlled by various gangs. Illegal immigrants who dare to cross these areas without paying protection money risk being raped and killed. The underwear of female gang-rape victims is often strung in trees along the border as a warning to those who would dare to cross the border without paying the required fee, as I witnessed firsthand.

On the other side of the Zimbabwean border, outside Musina, South Africa, local farmers are desperately trying to farm while competing with literally thousands of smugglers who trespass through their properties at night. Many farmers have given up parts of their farms because they can no longer risk running into smuggling gangs.

Three days before Ramaphosa’s recent visit to Musina, while the entire area was teeming with police and military personnel in preparation for the president’s arrival, a 56-year-old farmer was attacked in broad daylight on one of the border roads. He was assaulted, pistol-whipped and handcuffed to one of the fenceless border fence pillars while his attackers drove his vehicle straight into Zimbabwe.

But instead of going back to basics, such as putting up decent border fences and enforcing effective border control, the ANC government chose to create a new fancy entity, something right out of the ANC recipe book of pretense addressing issues but not really doing anything.

Days after the first border guards were deployed to the Musina area in July 2022, South African soldiers and GBO guards engaged in fistfights over who was now allowed to demand bribes from those entering the country illegally.

Moreover, these armed guards were deployed without the relevant legislation ever being published in the Government Gazette, so they were deployed unlawfully, raising the question of whether any of the arrests they carried out during this time would stand up in a court of law. The civil rights organization had to ask questions about this process before the legislation was quietly published and officially enacted into law.

The new Border Management Authority simply absorbed formerly corrupt police officers, customs officers and other law enforcement officers into its “new” structure. It is clear that the ANC government has fallen back on its old tactic of putting a shiny plaster over a wound, while ignoring the gangrenous rot that will eventually swallow them whole.

  • Jacques Broodryk is the director of the documentary series Open Borders and spokesperson for Community Safety at AfriForum.