Tough laws and effective enforcement needed to secure borders

Mmusi Maimane

Africa is in a war against human trafficking, cash-in-transit heists, arms and drugs smuggling. We must all do everything possible to combat the crime that has taken hold of our borders.

Citizens, go and experience the border for yourselves. It is an unconscionable indictment on the state of the ANC national government and not a matter of whether you are pan African or not.

What I experienced at the Ramatlabama border control post on the border of Mahikeng and Botswana last week was a horror story of how ANC governance has utterly failed to secure our borders and protect the people of South Africa. It is a forgotten place where drugs can quite literally be smuggled over the border in a wheel barrow.

It is little wonder that the Mmabatho police station has seen a 538% increase in drug related crimes over the past decade. These are not simply statistics – these are families whose lives have been destroyed by the ANC government's mishandling of their basic duty to protect the borders. Residents of Ramatlabama Village, not far from the border post, live in poverty, do not have jobs and have given up looking for jobs, have no recreational facilities, are plagued by stock theft and have seen their communities literally invaded by the scourge of drug crime.

Security at the border post is less intensive than at an average suburban block of flats. Vehicle and document checks are perfunctory, when they take place at all. There was not a single search dog in sight. Technology seems absent or antiquated. The officers themselves only intermittently present. This is South African's border with Botswana – a country that has been identified by the US State Department's International Narcotics Bureau since 1994 as a transit country for extremely dangerous hard drugs like mandrax.

It was only two years ago that customs officials from SARS came into possession of almost R80m of mandrax at the Kopfontein border post in the same province. I doubt this type of drug bust could ever have been achieved at Ramatlabama border post.

At a similar time, a routine vehicle search in Mahikeng found as many as 57 children being smuggled into South Africa from Malawi through Zimbabwe and Botswana, probably as part of a human trafficking ring.

What sickens me is how many more cases of modern day human slavery like this have been missed by broken border posts like Ramatlabama. By not effectively protecting our borders, the ANC government has potentially enabled many more instances of human slavery. And this does not even touch on the kickbacks that government officials have no doubt received while 'guarding' the gates.

South Africa's borders are not secure. Therefore, South Africans are not secure. If this is the case of border security, what of the security of our schools and hospitals?

The ANC government needs to redivert South African National Defence Force (SANDF) funding to a new border management plan. So that the number of companies deployed along our borders can increase from 15 to at least 22, and the number of units tasked with repairing and maintaining our border fences can at minimum double.

Where SAPS and Home Affairs are responsible for land crossings, they need to be better trained, properly equipped with technology and intelligence gathering abilities, and they need to be held to account for their performance.

This is how illicit trade will be prevented and stopped, wildlife poaching, drug and human trafficking, organised crime, stock-theft, and unchecked illegal immigration. And if the ANC government does not have the political will to do this, then when the DA is voted into national government, we will.

The first job of any government is incontrovertibly to protect its citizens. This is a constitutional obligation. It is the government's duty as the protectors of our borders and the custodians of our safety to ensure that this five-fold increase in drug crimes along our borders is stopped and reversed.

I will continue to doggedly hold the ANC government to account for their obligation to protect the people of South Africa. There are many more examples of border posts like this; where officials have been found with drugs, helping smugglers, or where there is free movement of illegal immigrants into South Africa, where poachers come and go, and where cross-border cattle raids are regular.

The only way to maintain a South Africa that is open to skilled, legal immigrants, while keeping our borders protected, is through tough laws and effective enforcement. This is the DA's pledge to South Africa.

- Maimane is leader of the Democratic Alliance.