On 5 October 2023, the President of the Republic of South Africa, HE Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, officially launched the operationalisation of the Border Management Authority (BMA) established in terms of Act 2 of 2020. The establishment of the BMA followed years of public outcry about the porousness of the country’s borders which resulted in, inter alia, a sporadic outbreak of violence against foreign nationals, particularly directed at those from other African countries, including Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. The foreign nationals were accused of various sorts of crimes such as drug trafficking and abuse (allegedly this group is led by Nigerians), “taking jobs” of locals in industries such as restaurants, mining and construction, corrupting public officials to obtain citizenship status and documents through false and illegal marriages, competing for public services such as health, education, social security and housing, “taking over” informal retail stores in informal settlements and rural areas, etc.
The above issues related to the life and predicament of foreign nationals in South Africa and their relations with the locals, all point to the main issue, which is effective (or lack thereof) border management. In 2009, the Department of Home Affairs initiated a process to help the government address border management challenges comprehensively covering all the nation’s 72 air, sea, and land ports of entry. The legislative process toward the establishment of the border management authority, started in earnest in 2015 proposed by the Department of Home Affairs. The legislative process was finalised on 16 July 2020 when the President of the Republic assented to the Bill establishing the authority and signing it into law. The BMA is aimed at addressing these and other prevailing border management issues; alignment of the different command state structures at ports of entry; building synergies between competing priorities and deliverables of different state institutions that are operational in the border environment; pulling together different tools of trade and equipment that are used between organs of state; fighting corruption by some officials and improving access to and sharing of information amongst government institutions operating at ports of entry; dealing with undocumented foreign nationals entering the country illegally, including illicit out flows of capital and natural resources, prevent human trafficking, among many other things.
In his remarks launching the BMA, the President said that “when our country’s ports of entry and borders are well-protected and well-managed, we are able to prevent the illegal importation and exit of goods. We are able to facilitate lawful trade at a greater scale and more efficiently. This is becoming increasingly important as we work with other countries in our region and elsewhere on the continent to increase intra-African trade”1. He continued that “a more secure border is important for curbing illegal migration, human smuggling and trafficking. It will help in combating cross-border crime”.1 In fairness, there is nothing disputable in what the President said, however, the key question is whether the personnel that will be deployed to operationalise the new entity will be equal to the task insofar as their skills and expertise are concerned. A new institution that will assume responsibilities that were traditionally managed by different organs faces a critical challenge of skills compatibility with the task at hand. In fact, the effectiveness or otherwise of any institution is largely determined by and hinges on the calibre of its staff complement coupled with remuneration and incentives that keep them motivated and loyal to the employer’s strategic vision, mission and institutional objectives.
Border management in the twenty-first century transcends mere physical examination of goods at customs checkpoints or at immigration centres to stamp passports, or compliance with health and veterinary requirements of imported or exported goods. It requires officials who are well vested with economic implications of unduly long turnaround time on customs procedures, adequate understanding of regular movements of businesspersons across international borders for conferences and business engagements, thus the issuance of visa permits where applicable has to be part of the streamlined administrative processes considering all the paper trail and red-tape associated with it.
The training of border management officials is one of the key focus areas of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The latter divides its training programmes into two categories, foundational and thematic training. The foundational training covers aspects of border management such as “awareness of migration issues: visa systems, immigration systems, border management systems, migration intelligence systems, management of operational data and more. Furthermore, it includes the awareness raising of international law, labour migration, migration and health, gender training and integrated border management”.2 The thematic training programme encompasses “communication at border crossing points, border procedures, passport examination procedures, countering document fraud and transnational organised crime (trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants), interviewing techniques and intelligence analysis for immigration and border officers”.3
Beyond the training on systematic issues, border management officials ought to be conscientious on growing developmental issues associated with cross-border migration. In addition to the shipment of products, the movement of people across international borders is necessitated by other specific purposes such as business development, economic cooperation and regional integration. Another developmental aspect of migration which also depends on the effectiveness of border management, is the rise in international mobility for work and trade in services. The IOM long recognised international labour mobility as a “critical resource for development whether as a factor of production in receiving states or in state of origin as a source of skills acquisition, investment and foreign exchange earnings through remittance”. In essence, border management processes should be aimed at advancing the agenda for development not only emphasising stringent security measures. It is against this contextualised understanding that the President’s remark on 5 October 2023, that “all citizens have the right to enter, to remain in and reside anywhere in the Republic” would gain traction.
South Africa and its immediate Southern Africa region would be better off learning and acquiring skills, knowledge and expertise from the lessons learned and best practices from around the world, including from the Border Management Staff College which is part of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE Border Management Staff College rolls out comprehensive training and capacity-building programmes to the senior officials managing borders across Europe with 57 participating countries including those that have cooperation partnerships with them. The OSCE skills development programmes cover multiple border-related threats that are of an increasing transnational nature. The threats include terrorism, organised crime, illicit trafficking of human beings, weapons and narcotics, complex trade and transit routes and procedures, disputes that give rise to unresolved border delimitation and demarcation, and challenges related to migration, asylum seekers and refugees. In other words, effective border management is a complex public service governance process which constantly requires skilling, multi-skilling and reskilling of border-posts officials.
The European Union model of border management has three layers, namely; Intra-service cooperation: which looks into efficient management of processes, information and resources within agencies responsible for specific tasks; Inter-agency cooperation: dealing with close cooperation between all agencies involved in border issues both at the border and at the central level, thus minimising overlap, inconsistency and optimising the efficient use of resources; and International cooperation: establishment of communication and coordination channels and procedures at the local, bilateral and multilateral levels.4 In Southern Africa, border management is yet to be pursued as part of the integration agenda processes to improve regional governance and cooperation on migration issues. It is still largely treated as an economic matter concerned with market access and removal of barriers to trade and also included in the narrative is the limited free movement of persons (mainly for business purposes). Border management is also viewed as a national security issue that should mainly address threats to social cohesion triggered by illegal migration.
The promotion and realisation of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – “The Africa We Want” in relation to Aspiration 3: An Africa of Good Governance, Democracy, Respect for Human Rights, Justice and the Rule of Law, calls for the building of capable institutions and transformative leadership, to which one can also add, effective management of public affairs by well-trained civil servants. International borders by their very nature and existence, are shared operational environments between neighbouring states. Thus, the initiative of the South African President to invite his Zimbabwean counterpart to the launch of the BMA, hopefully, served as a catalyst for closer cooperation between the two countries on matters of border management. It is impossible to achieve any of the noble objectives of a border management authority without the full support and cooperation of neighbouring states.
Effective management of the very busy border between South Africa and Zimbabwe doesn’t only conjoin their geographic territories, it also serves as an umbilical cord that links the two economies. The two countries have no other alternative but to adequately skill and capacitate their border post officials to be able to manage the different dynamics of border operations with the aim of addressing the development agenda. Targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 17.9 call for partnerships for the enhancement of international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries. Border management is a critical governance function which is at the centre of any country’s management of its relations with international cooperation and development partners. Therefore, regular and appropriate skills development of border management officials could help leverage the relations between states and international travellers depending on how the visitors are treated at the first point of contact with a foreign country.
Important aspects of effective border management generally include striking a delicate balance between, on the one hand, ensuring that borders are open to trade, tourism and orderly legal movement of people, and on the other hand, secured and controlled borders in relation to transnational crimes and threats posed by illegal migration, smuggling, human trafficking, and terrorism. Professional training experts are in unison that ‘a high-quality, comprehensive training programme provides employees with greater understanding of organisational processes, procedures and goals. Training also enables them with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective in their roles’. It can therefore be concluded that the effectiveness or otherwise of the new BMA in South Africa will be determined by the kind of training, skills and working tools the officials will be provided with to discharge their duties.