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South African Security Agents Team Up to Net Border Jumpers

FILE: Zimbabweans pass a police cordon to submit their application forms outside the Immigration offices in Johannesburg, in a last minute bid to have their status in South Africa legalized (File Photo)

The South African government has launched what it calls Operation Pyramid that will see the army, police and immigration department forming a single border management agency to ensure no illegal immigrants or goods enter the country's borders.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told journalists in Johannesburg today that this is the best way of curbing border jumping by thousands of people per week.

Zimbabweans say this will be a blow to thousands of local people, who have survived by sneaking in and out of the country to make a living.

Find below a full-text unedited statement issued by Gigaba at the launch of Operation Pyramid.

At its recent Summit of Heads of State and Government, the African Union adopted a Declaration committing it to facilitating the free movement of persons on the continent, as well as ultimately to destroying the colonial borders imposed on the African people and continent at the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884 – 1885.

At this Conference, a cartel of European states resolved to partition Africa and slice it all up into a number of European colonies that would, for the next century, be held in brutal and dehumanising subjugation at the behest of the various colonial masters.

Referring to this tragedy in his Preface to, the late Prof. Ali Mazrui says:

“Africa, since its partition, has seen its mineral wealth exploited for the benefit of others, its fertile land left undercultivated, its rich cultures destroyed, and its brain-power ‘drained’ to other parts of the world. At the centre of this calamity is the role of the West in creating an international system that reduced proud Africans to the lowest caste of the twentieth century. How will post-colonial Africans overcome this condition in the twenty-first century?” (Adekeye Adebajo: “The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War”)

Of this partition he says that:

“The partition of Africa, on the other hand, resulted in some of the most vulnerable societies in modern history.”

It created, in addition, artificial borders that separated common tribes, chieftaincies and even families, locking some in one country and others in another.

Today, when these people need to visit one another, for cultural, customary and other reasons, they have to cross borders carrying passports or simply break the laws of the neighbouring countries by crossing at undesignated “border-gates.”

In this regard, we are committed to the wise counsel of our late President Mandela, who said in 1997 that:

“We must therefore discuss the central and complex question of our relations with the rest of our Continent and our view of what needs to happen within this part of the world to which our destiny is tied. The peoples of Africa share a common destiny.”

The issue of international migration has attracted very interesting debates and discussions in South Africa in recent years and has gained prominence.

The dark clouds that descended over our country in May 2008 and April 2015 have, in a strange and surely undesirable way, widened the scope of national discourse on this phenomenon, extending it beyond academics, public officials and activists involved in the area; ordinary people in every community have been brought on board.

As a nation we have only partially harvested the benefits of inward and outward international migration while not sufficiently addressing its serious risks to our people, our state and our reputation.

Our approach thus far has been ad-hoc, arbitrary, based on the principles of “control” and has neglected the question of “managing international migration in the national interests in order to pursue and balance our economic imperatives and national security interests.

During the process, we have neglected focusing on the positive contribution of migrants in our society, how to harness international migration for our benefit, what systems, processes and approaches must we put in place in order thus to benefit from the inevitable process of international migration and, as Madiba said it, how to ensure that out of this process we strengthen our relations with the rest of our Continent bearing in mind that, “The peoples of Africa share a common destiny.”

Today, we do not intend to talk about international migration principles in general, and our evolving international migration management philosophy, but we intend to address ourselves to the steps we are taking in order the better to secure our national borders and the integrity of our national territory.

By so doing, we are not negating the wishes or dreams of the African Union, but are taking cognizance of the fact that before we can have free movement and remove the colonial borders, we will need a gradual approach towards managing migration that takes account of the fact that African countries have different levels of attractiveness, our migration policies, legislations, regulations and systems are unevenly developed, and that we need a risk-based approach to migration management.

Having said so, our approach to migration management is premised on the fact that South Africa, both as a country and an emerging but advanced economy on the continent needs migrants, particularly those from the African continent.

In this regard, we must reiterate the point we have before made about migrants, particularly those from the African continent, that:

First and foremost, immigrants contribute towards our country’s economic development by investing in the economy, supplying critical skills including in our health facilities, teaching our children and youth in schools and universities and thus transferring knowledge and skills, and paying much needed tax that contributes towards expanding the national revenue base.

Furthermore, many nationals of our neighbouring countries travel to South Africa daily, weekly or monthly to buy groceries or purchase goods from our retail shops to go sell in their countries, paying toll fees on our roads and thus contributing towards revenue generation that has been so vital to increasing government’s social and economic expenditure to benefit South Africans.

Secondly, by entering our country through our designated ports of entry as regular migrants, and by complying with both our immigration and other legislation, most foreign nationals contribute towards enhancing South Africa’s national security and ensure that we can manage the visitors in our midst, whilst protecting South Africans as well as the visitors themselves.

Recently, we have enhanced our legislation and regulations in order the more effectively to protect South Africa by managing and minimising the risks to our country arising out of the phenomenon of international migration.

Thirdly, immigrants in our country contribute towards nation-building and enhance our social cohesion by bringing more diversity to our nation and creating more understanding of the diverse nature, not only of Africans of Africa but also of the peoples of the world.

By having new groups of immigrants in South Africa in the recent years, we have become a more cosmopolitan country and our understanding of who we are as a nation has been deepened, based on the new complex dynamics that have enriched our nation.

Fourthly, immigrants have integrated South Africa into the global community and African immigrants in particular have made South Africa an integral part of the African continent that we rightfully are.

Every country on the continent can find its nationals on our shores; and, in some instances we now have South Africans of descent in fellow African countries.

We, as a people, are better and more humane today than we have ever been because of these fellow Africans and peoples of elsewhere in the world that have chosen voluntarily, and mostly through regular means, to live amongst us and make South Africa their permanent home.

We must accordingly be very clear that immigrants are welcome in South Africa.

In implementing the new migration approach, which will be fully elaborated in the Green Paper to be released by March 2016, and finally in the White Paper we will release towards the end of 2016, we will endeavour to outline our risk-based management approach, which should involve the steps we have taken to enhance border management whilst pushing the borders away from our physical borderline.

Key challenges facing border management in our country, in particular, involve human movement, transnational organised crime, criminal activities, terrorism, endangered species and natural resources as well as animal, plant and human diseases.

Furthermore, large parts of our airspace and coastline are vulnerable to illegal airspace and maritime movement.

South Africa has a land border of some 4, 471km it shares with six neighbouring countries, which include 35 non-designated border crossings.

We have an obligation to secure our land, maritime and air borderline from the risks outlined above.

The South African National Defence Force has over the years that it operated in the borderline environment performed exceptionally and in the process scored significant victories with regard to the apprehension of irregular migrants, weapons, stock and vehicles recovery, as well as criminals arrested and contraband.

In December 2014, Cabinet approved the vision of the Border Management Agency (BMA) which will be a single agency that will assume full control of Port of Entry and Borderline functions.

It will assume operational responsibility for Port of Entry infrastructure and maintenance and establish its own organisational culture, identity and conditions of service.

With regard to the Ports of Entry, the Department of Home Affairs will soon be appointing a Transaction Advisor to undertake the technical studies required to support the proposals for the revamp of the physical and systems infrastructure of the 6 key land ports of entry at Beit Bridge, Lebombo, Kopfontein, Oshoek, Ficksburg Bridge and Maseru Bridge.

However, we cannot wait until the BMA is fully established and functional before we can start paying attention to enhancing our borderline management in an integrated, effective and coordinated way in the transition period while the BMA is being established.

For this reason, government has resolved to launch the Operation Pyramid in order to announce the start of an on-going operational initiative in the borderline environment that seeks to improve the overall coordination and cooperation between government and civil society partners the better to secure our country’s land, air and maritime borderline.

We seek to,

1. Ensure greater coherence and impact of existing government initiatives in the borderline environment in the transition period while the Border Management Agency is being established;

2. Elevate the profile and work of government’s various borderline initiatives, with a specific focus in South Africa and the region;

3. Position border communities as a crucial partner with government in securing and safeguarding the country’s land, air and sea borders;

4. Optimally utilise the complementary role of technology, infrastructure, State personnel and local communities in border control and safeguarding; and

5. Strengthen bilateral and multilateral relationships at multi levels of governance to secure South Africa’s borders.

Operation Pyramid will focus on law enforcement, technology solutions, infrastructure improvement, border community development, bilateral and multilateral, as well as intelligence-driven operations.

Through this launch, we intend emphatically to communicate the message that Government is committed to enhancing borderline security and control as well as improving partnerships and collaboration between various stakeholders and government in the borderline environment.

Lessons from Operation Pyramid will be carried over into the BMA.

This launch today marks the start of the roll-out of Operation Pyramid to various targeted / pilot areas in the borderline environment.

We have set ourselves the objective very robustly to defend our country’s national integrity and enhance our national security.

A safe and secure South Africa is vital to the safety and security of the SADC region and the African Continent as a whole.

Similarly, a safe and secure SADC and Continent are vital for South Africa’s own safety and security.

If it be true that “The peoples of Africa share a common destiny”, and so it must be viewed as positive that we are taking the drastic steps we are taking to protect, not only our people, but our endangered species and natural resources as well, for the common heritage of our children and future generations.

I thank you.