By Sindisiwe Dlamini
In a world where globalization and interconnectedness have become the norm, ensuring the security and integrity of a nation’s borders is of paramount importance. South Africa, with its extensive and diverse borders, faces unique challenges and opportunities in this regard. President Ramaphosa, in a statement released recently, outlined the significance of the newly established Border Management Authority (BMA) and its role in enhancing both the country’s security and development.
South Africa’s land border stretches over 4,800 kilometres, shared with six neighbouring countries. This vast expanse comprises 53 land ports of entry, 11 international airports, and 8 sea ports. Managing these extensive borders, given their historical and contemporary challenges, is a formidable task.
Historical challenges date back to the apartheid era when the sovereignty of neighbouring countries was disregarded, leading to illegal cross-border raids and the exploitation of labour from the region. Reforming the border management and migration regime became a priority after the democratic government came into power in 1994. The aim was not only to promote economic growth but also to uphold human rights, the rights of refugees, and the principles of regional integration.
Despite these noble intentions, border management became complex due to a lack of coordination among various authorities and numerous government departments involved. The absence of a central authority resulted in fragmented efforts and made accountability difficult to enforce. Therefore, South Africa became a transit route for organized criminal networks involved in human trafficking, drug smuggling, small arms trafficking, and other cross-border crimes.
The economic strength of South Africa has also attracted economic migrants, many of whom are undocumented, especially from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The resulting porous borders have led to cross-border crime, illicit trade, and illegal migration, all of which pose serious threats to national security, the economy, public services, and social stability.
The establishment of the Border Management Authority addresses these challenges head-on. It now stands as the third armed service in South Africa, alongside the South African Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Service (SAPS). The authority’s border guard, deployed earlier this year, plays a pivotal role in enforcing immigration laws and securing the country’s borders.
The BMA is tasked with curbing illegal migration, preventing the illegal importation and export of goods, combating cross-border crime, and managing access control. While the SANDF retains responsibility for border protection, the BMA works alongside the South African Revenue Service, SAPS, and SANDF to integrate border management functions.
President Ramaphosa’s statement underlines the importance of the Border Management Authority in achieving not only the nation’s security but also its economic growth and development. Unified and efficient border management is crucial to ensure the integrity of South Africa’s borders and promote safe and prosperous communities.
The nation should condemn all acts of violence against foreign nationals and work together to prevent such incidents. Simultaneously, we must uphold the right to guarantee the integrity of our borders and ensure that all residing in our country do so legally. The establishment of the Border Management Authority is a significant step toward achieving these goals.