Transparency and accountability will be key in determining the success of the Border Management Act, which was enacted last year, writes Siseko Maposa.
In July 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Border Management Authority Act (BMA Act) aimed at improving the security of South Africa’s borders. Following this, the government announced its intention to launch a new public entity in 2022, the Border Management Authority (BMA), to manage all matters related to border security in South Africa, including traffic legality of persons and property.
The BMA represents a comprehensive approach to border management by South Africa. It establishes an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the minister of the interior and composed of the ministers of defence, police, state security, agriculture, finance, environment, health, trade and industry and transport. It also establishes a border technical committee made up of relevant state departments and institutions and an advisory committee that the Minister of the Interior can appoint.
Government plans to strengthen South Africa’s borders are welcome, especially given South Africa’s current porous borders, which have led to an influx of undocumented migrants into the country. The Government’s 2017 White Paper on International Migration for South Africa raised concerns about irregular immigration, noting that it leads to “unacceptable levels of corruption, human rights abuses and risks to national security”. Many have also argued that the growing number of undocumented migrants in the country has led to devastating socio-economic ills, including increased levels of crime. It has also fueled xenophobic tensions, particularly against African immigrants.
For the BMA to be fully operational, an estimated cash injection of over R3 billion will be required to compensate employees and a further R5.28 billion is budgeted for goods and services. According to its strategic milestones, by the end of May 2022, all key BMA positions are targeted to be filled. For now, the BMA is expected to remain incubated as a branch of the Home Office until March 2023. By April 1, 2023, the agency is expected to operate as a permanent Schedule 3A public entity under the Minister of the Interior. .
The creation of the BMA and the costs associated with its operationalization have not escaped public scrutiny. While some have argued that the costs associated with establishing the BMA are excessive, others have noted that the government’s position as adopted in the BMA Act represents a dangerous departure from the liberal foreign policy of South Africa. There have also been arguments that the BMA will lead to gross human rights abuses and increased xenophobia against immigrants in the country.
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This last argument does not hold because it fails to account for how an entity such as BMA, founded in law, would necessarily lead to human rights abuses and xenophobia. It also stems from the restrictive view that immigration enforcement should be xenophobic. It ignores the real concern that South Africa’s immigration system is weak and border management non-existent. If nothing is done to remedy this situation, the real concerns of poor black South Africans will continue to be exploited by xenophobes like Herman Mashaba for their own political ends.
South Africa is a nation state guided by its Constitution, national and international law to secure and maintain its sovereignty, which grants the government the responsibility to secure its borders, lands and people. For too long, the South African government has approached border security issues with lethargy. This has aggravated the flow of undocumented migrants and transnational organized crime such as illicit trade and smuggling of stolen goods, which negatively impact South Africa’s economic activity.
The cost-benefit analysis of the BMA should be placed in the overall context of the government’s responsibility to provide social and economic stability. Open, honest and fair conversations must take place about how the government can practically give effect to its legal mandate to protect the country and all who live in it.
That said, the government will need to address critical issues that could prevent the BMA from realizing its vision. South Africa’s porous borders are the result of poor policy development, coordination and implementation, as well as vengeful immigration officials who have undermined the vaunted ability to the state to combat illegal immigration. Undoubtedly, the BMA will fail if the current systemic, governance and institutional weaknesses at the state level are not squarely addressed.
Furthermore, a balance must be struck between the various aspects of effective border management, as set out in the BMA Act. The government should avoid the temptation to rely too heavily on the military to secure its borders. In regions that have chosen to increase the militarization of borders, such as the European Union, incidences of serious human rights violations against immigrants and asylum seekers, with and without papers, have been noted, which is very unpleasant in the context of a liberal democracy.
Moreover, despite an increase in the number and budget of patrol boats, the United States has not won the war against illegal immigrants. For example, along its border with Mexico, since 1986 to date, the number of border agents has exploded over the years from 2,000 to 20,000 and has seen the budget for border patrol fall from 200 million dollars to $5 billion. However, this failed to contain the problem as the undocumented population grew from around 2 million to 11 million people.
Usually, as in the European case, undocumented immigrants simply find different and more dangerous entry routes, leading not only to increased deaths, but also to the need for increased border security budgets. Without diminishing its objectives, the BMA must learn from such cases and implement border militarization in a way that allocates resources optimally while protecting the human rights of asylum seekers.
Additionally, transparency and accountability will be key in determining the success of the BMA. The President, as head of the national executive, and Parliament must play their part in ensuring complete control of the IMC.
In addition, there is a need to improve the current system of vetting bureaucrats and border security officers in order to rid the system of corruption. Another determining factor for success will be how diligently the government explores a regional approach to border security. This will require strong diplomatic engagements and increased coordination with neighboring states, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU) member states and the wider international community.
South Africa is notorious for creating entities and coming up with new terminology to address issues of national importance, with little success. Can the BMA change the situation as it is envisaged?
– Siseko Maposa is Head of Public Policy and Stakeholder Relations at Frontline Africa Advisory.
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