South Africa’s rapid transition from global pariah under apartheid to a welcomed member of the global community under the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, brought with it many benefits. It also opened up the country to a range of threats ranging from intercontinental drug networks and arms smuggling to human trafficking. The country’s improved status also greatly increased the amount of trade that started flowing through the nation’s land ports, airports and sea ports.
This was another benefit that brought with it some complications: greater volumes of trade created huge amounts of work for officials for a range of departments tasked with various aspects of border management and increased the possibilities for criminal activity.
In response to these challenges South Africa’s newest entity, the Border Management Authority (BMA), was officially launched in the northern Limpopo town of Musina in October 2023.
Musina is a border town with a busy crossing into neighbouring Zimbabwe, one of 53 ports of entry into the country that are on land. In addition, there are 11 international airports and eight seaports. The land border alone is more than 4 800km long and so the task of policing and administering the border is a big one.
Because the Border Management Authority is a third national armed law enforcement authority (after the South African National Defence Force and the South African Police Service) it had to be formally launched by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic, President Cyril Ramaphosa. And that is why a formal sword of command was officially presented to the Border Management Authority’s first Commissioner and CEO, Dr Nakampe Michael Masiapato.
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 process of bringing the BMA into being was not done overnight. Months of preparation have seen various officials being moved from various departments to the new, integrated operation.
As Dr Masiapato describes the process, “We had to integrate officials who were actually working at the ports of entry who were deployed by these various government departments. We had to move them out of those departments into the Border Management Authority so that it becomes an integrated border management platform for the implementation of border laws of the Republic under a single command and control.”
Among the entities involved in border management are the police, the South African National Defence Force, South African Revenue Service (customs and revenue collection) and various government departments dealing with immigration, health, agriculture and the environment.
Dr Masiapato notes that there was a level of complexity because it was necessary to “integrate various systems that had been deployed by various government departments which were operating in silos”. The goal entailed “moving away from the implementation of border management through a multi-agency approach” and creating an integrated model, “with a single command and control across the ports of entry”.
The key aspect involves the BMA working closely with “three critical organs of state and those are the South African National Defence Force, the South African Police Service as well as the South African Revenue Service” but could include any other agency or body whose work might relate to border issues. The BMA operates under guidelines which specify that it is “a Schedule 3A public entity that is supposed to be operating autonomously and it operates outside the public service but within public administration”.
In welcoming the establishment of the BMA, President Ramaphosa wrote, “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.”
Among the critical functions of the BMA are:
- Access control
- Environmental bio-security
- Protection of human health
- Agricultural bio-security
Commissioner Masiapato has highlighted that the method deployed by agents at ports of entry will be a “risk-based model that would be able to identify individuals that would be intercepted and prevented from committing criminal activities”.
One of the biggest upsides of an efficiently functioning border management authority will be to improve trade between South Africa and its neighbours.
A number of successes have already been achieved by the BMA. The large and complex gathering which was the 15th BRICS Summit 2023 went off without a hitch, with the BMA contributing to that success by processing journalists, participating officials and more than 60 heads of state.
Since the BMA started functioning as a separate entity, the following interceptions have been made:
- 141 vehicles which were stolen or hijacked
- More than 5 500 counterfeit goods prevented from entering
- 95 217 people trying to enter the country with no documentation
- 35 944 people trying to enter the country who were declared undesirable
Trade and efficiency
One of the biggest upsides of an efficiently functioning border management authority will be to improve trade between South Africa and its neighbours. Dr Masiapato wants to “make sure that we streamline the movement of trade between us and our neighbouring jurisdictions and among the broader global community of nations”.
Work has begun on tightening border control with Zimbabwe and improving trade relations and synchronising systems with Mozambique. Instead of slow movement of trucks and port backlogs, Dr Masiapato wants to “make sure there is a better movement of trade”. Exporters and importers must see results, he says. Working on the efficiency of trade movement must not detract border operations from the security mission. Dr Masiapato stresses: “We also had to make sure that we look after the country’s national security and also its national interest and make sure that we are able to protect the Republic.”
For more information on the Border Management Authority, visit https://www.bma.gov.za/