“We must recognize that South Africans are rightly concerned about illegal immigrants. South Africa, like any sovereign country, has the right to guarantee the integrity of our borders and to ensure that everyone who lives within our borders has a legal right to be here.
“Those who seek asylum in South Africa or want to live and work here are subject to immigration regulations and must abide by the country’s legislation.”
Pres. On Monday, in his weekly newsletter, Cyril Ramaphosa emphasized the crucial role of maintaining the integrity of South Africa’s borders, in order to promote peace and harmony within the nation and with neighboring countries.
His comments come in light of last week’s launch of the country’s first integrated Border Management Authority (BMA). The authority is described as a milestone in the government’s efforts to secure the country’s borders.
“However, it is a challenging undertaking. South Africa’s border is more than 4,800 km long and is shared with six countries. We have 53 country border posts, 11 international airports and eight port border posts.”
The Border Management Authority must ensure that South Africa’s immigration legislation is applied, that borders are properly protected and ports are managed efficiently. This authority is now the third armed service in South Africa next to the South African Armed Forces (SANW) and the South African Police Service (SAPD).
Border problems: historical and contemporary
According to Ramaphosa, the challenges on South Africa’s borders are “historical and contemporary in nature”.
“The apartheid regime disregarded the sovereignty of neighboring countries to carry out illegal cross-border raids. It abused immigration measures to harass its opponents, and imposed hated policies such as immigration controls and the exploitation of labor from the region.
“It was the priority of the democratic government elected in 1994 to progressively reform the border management and migration regime, not only in the interest of economic growth and development, but also so that these reforms should reflect the broader values of the new state .”
The president points out that the democratic government has failed to uphold the right of citizens to freedom of movement and residence, as well as the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in terms of 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 Africa.
Over time, however, the complexities of border management have resulted in an uncoordinated approach by the various authorities, says the president.
“One of the challenges was the large number of government departments and institutions involved in this work. The absence of a central authority led to fragmentation of efforts and made it difficult to enforce accountability.
“This has made our borders vulnerable again,” says the president.
Crime and illegal immigrants
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has noted that South Africa has become an important transit route for organized crime networks involved in human trafficking, drug and small arms smuggling and various other forms of cross-border crime. The UN also noted that South Africa, as the economic powerhouse of the region, continues to attract economic migrants who are undocumented, especially from the SADC region.
“The spread of cross-border crime, illegal trade and illegal migration due to porous borders poses a serious threat to our national security and economy. It also puts pressure on already depleted resources and public services and promotes social instability. We have seen in recent times that South Africans opposed to foreign nationals have carried out acts of violence and harassment. As a country, we must unreservedly condemn all acts of violence against foreign nationals, regardless of their immigration status, and work together to prevent such acts.”
The first officers of the new BMA border guard were deployed in July this year at vulnerable parts of the border, including at informal crossings. Although they will perform border law enforcement functions, including access control, the military remains responsible for border protection and security.
The new structure must also prevent illegal imports and exports and illegal migration and human trafficking and combat cross-border crime.
The BMA will take over the duties of various other departments and agencies and is already working with the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the police and the military to integrate border management functions.
“The establishment of the BMA is an important step towards safer communities, better law enforcement and the growth of our economy through greater trade with our neighbours. Ensuring that our borders are well managed and effectively protected is key to the security and development of our country.”