SPECIAL OP-ED: Launch of the BMA a step in the right direction in securing South Africa’s borders

By Dr Michael Masiapato, PHD.
Commissioner of the Border Management Authority of South Africa
The Musina heat of 37°C gathered thousands of attendees to witness the historic launch of the Border Management Authority.

The Border Management Authority aims to ensure that South African borders are less porous and more efficient in facilitation of trade as well as ensuring the legitimate movement of goods and people. South Africa has 72 ports of entry comprising of 53 land ports, 10 aviation or international airports and 9 marine (sea) ports. Over and above managing the 72 ports of entry, we are managing the vulnerable segments of our border lines and community crossing points.

The initial multi-departmental approach we had for the past 29 years was a major challenge, where a number of Departments were operating at the borders. You had the Department of Home Affairs doing immigration; the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment doing biosecurity functions, the Department of Agriculture doing agriculture functions and also the Department of Health responsible for port health functions.

In the previous years we had independent managers of those four departments operating at the ports and reporting back to their various departments. This was over and above the operations of the South African Revenue Services (SARS) facilitating port customs, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) responsible for border policing functions.

There was a necessity to bring a border management model where these port functions of the four Departments are integrated. The model involved the port related functions exiting those Departments and reporting to the Border Management Authority under one command.

The need for an integrated and co-ordinated border management was in accordance with the Constitution, international and domestic law, in order to contribute to the socio-economic development of the Republic.

In order to empower the BMA to be effective, it was then created as a law enforcement authority, which became the third armed service in South Africa after SANDF and SAPS.

The mandate of the BMA is clear in ensuring the prevention of smuggling and trafficking of human beings and goods; preventing illegal cross-border movement; contributing to the protection of the Republic’s environmental and natural resources; and protecting the Republic from harmful and infectious diseases, pests and substances.

In July 2022, the first 221 officers were deployed as BMA Border Guards at vulnerable segments of the border line, including the informal community crossing points. Its formal establishment and assumption of its status as an autonomous schedule 3 (A) public entity was conferred on 1 April 2023. This being one of the most important authorities, it was necessary for President Cyril Ramaphosa, as Commander-in-Chief of the South Africa’s armed forces to preside over the launch of the Border Management Authority.

Subsequent to that, and additional 400 BMA Border Guards including 50 Coast guards are being recruited to ensure that the entity is effective and efficient at all border posts.

In order to maintain the BMA integrity and based on the many corruption challenges that were faced in the past, section 13 of the BMA Act requires that all border management officials be fully vetted and regular lifestyle audits to be conducted.

To assist with technological support on Border Management operations, the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi recently announced the issuing of the Request for Proposal to the market for the redesigning and redevelopment of our top six busiest ports of entry.

Regional Economic Integration

The primary intention is to ensure the realisation of regional economic integration in the SADC region, while facilitating the realisation of African Continental Free Trade Area.

The re-developed ports of entry will result in the efficient cross-border management of movement of people, goods and services, improved revenue collection and preventing harmful imports and exports.

The six earmarked ports of entry are:

Beitbridge – Zimbabwe
Lebombo – Mozambique
Maseru Bridge – Lesotho
Ficksburg – Lesotho
Kopfontein – Botswana
Oshoek – Eswatini

These ports were earmarked in order to address the congestion, based on being the largest and busiest by traffic volume.

The re-designing project is expected to create an estimated 38 000 jobs in areas around the six designated ports of entry.

The BMA is a vital link in our efforts to harness the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Despite serious challenges faced before, the BMA will provide a sustainable solution to the structural challenges of border security, control and coordination.

It is intended that this new approach will adapt and respond effectively to the challenges, threats and opportunities that exist in the Border environment whilst safe-guarding South Africa’s borders and meeting the country’s national, regional and global development responsibilities and human rights imperatives.

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