Cape Town - Some South African border posts are functioning so badly that illegal entrants don't even have to crawl through holes in border fences to enter the country – they simply walk through the border gates, unchecked by officials.
That's the admission from the Home Affairs Department, which has also acknowledged its staff are not up to speed with the detection of fraudulent documents, facial recognition and traveller profiling.
The department has also warned it cannot afford to continue running a state-of-the-art security system which identifies suspect or high-risk passengers before they leave their home countries.
The shock revelations emerged this week during a briefing of the select committee on social services by Jacob Mamabolo, the department's chief director of port control.
He detailed a lack of capacity and funding for South Africa's 72 ports of entry, which he said increased security risks by contributing to poor service delivery, which impacted on "congestion, long queues, illegal entry and the poor state of facilities".
Mamabolo said research by the CSIR that described the problems faced at ports of entry in South Africa, had been presented last week to Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor.
Mamabolo told the committee the department had at one stage considered closing some ports of entry in an effort to focus resources.
"But how do you explain the closure of ports of entry? It can be seen as shutting borders to our neighbours," he said.
Some border posts had no immigration officials and were only staffed by the police, Mamabolo added.
While those entering the country illegally were often thought to be gaining access through holes in fences, "there are some instances where people just walk through our ports of entry".
Mamabolo told MPs the number of foreigners arriving in South Africa was steadily increasing, while the numbers leaving were much lower, "which tells us that people are coming in, but they don't leave", he said.
This meant the department needed to focus more on policing, tracking and tracing.
Jackie McKay, deputy director general for immigration, said there were insufficient inspectors to trace those who overstayed their welcome.
"We have just over 600 inspectors in the whole of South Africa to do that. London alone has over 3 000," he said.
Adding to the department's woes was that it lacked he funds to continue running a state-of-the-art security system which identifies suspect or high-risk passengers before they head to South Africa.
The multimillion-rand Advance Passenger Profiling system uses passenger details entered by airlines in other countries, and checks them against various security databases here. If the passenger is identified as a risk of any sort, or is found to have a criminal record, they are prevented from boarding.
Mamabolo said the system was "extremely expensive" to operate, and there were no funds to keep it operational.
McKay said the Treasury had not liked the idea that passengers pay a fee for this, and had indicated that the funds must come out of the department's budget. The funds had however not been allocated.
"We are in discussions with the service provider to try and negotiate some kind of a deal or a discount," he said.
Other major issues identified by the department in their briefing included:
* Lack of communication and co-operation between departments such as the police, Home Affairs and the South African Revenue Service.
* Major traffic congestion, particularly during peak travel periods such as Easter and the festive season, as a result of narrow roads leading to border posts, and lack of properly designed facilities to deal effectively with trucks and buses.
* The proper management of asylum seekers, who must present themselves at a port of entry.
* Some officials did not have proper uniforms due to procurement issues within the department.
The department indicated during the briefing that some steps were being taken to ensure that ports of entry were made more secure.
* A pilot project using biometrics such as fingerprints at OR Tambo International Airport. Mamabolo said they currently relied only on paperwork to check identity, which was easily manipulated.
* A pilot project, also at OR Tambo, involving Cuban-trained immigration officials had just been concluded. As part of the pilot project, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members were trained to act as immigration officers. This new team had won an award from the Airports Company of South Africa, Mamabolo said.
* The department was also looking at making ports of entry cash-free to deter corruption, including bribery.
* More than 284 SANDF reserve members had received training to assist at ports of entry during this weekend's busy Easter influx period.
* The department was hoping to retrain all land port officials, a project which would be rolled out over the next year.
Weekend Argus - By BIANCA CAPAZORIO
IMCOSA - Immigration Consultants South Africa - Visa Services, Immigration Agents