ATC210127: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on an oversight visit to Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry in Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces respectively, dated 26 January 2021
Report of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on an oversight visit to Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry in Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces respectively, dated 26 January 2021.
The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs (the Committee), having conducted an oversight visit to Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry in Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces from 11 to 15 January 2021, reports as follows:
South Africa has 72 Ports of Entry, and of the 72 ports of entry, 54 are land borders. It is bordered by six countries namely Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, eSwatini, Zimbabwe and the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The Beitbridge Port of Entry is one of the busiest land ports of entry between South Africa and Zimbabwe, followed by Lebombo Port of Entry between South Africa and Mozambique, then the Maseru border post between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho.
During the festive / peak season between December / January of each year and Easter holidays, the three land ports of entry are very busy. The congestion of trucks and peoples movement during the festive season in December/January was unprecedented. . The truck traffic congestion and people's movements generally peak upwards during the festive season (December/January) and Easter holidays, as recently observed during the outgoing movement and currently with the incoming movement.
News agencies and social media platforms have shown images and videos clips of congestion at the Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry. The images and videos also showed some people illegally crossing the Limpopo River into South Africa, using rubber duck boats and other makeshift equipment to assist them to cross the crocodile-infested river.
The Department of Home Affairs which is responsible for facilitating the movement of people and goods' through South Africa's ports of entry, has been criticised for the congestion on the Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry.
As a result of the spread of COVID-19, South Africa requires travellers to produce a negative COVID-19 test certificate that is not older than 72 hours to enter South Africa. This has led to massive congestion at the ports of entry and further putting travellers at possible risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the lack of social distancing, not putting on facemasks and lack of hand sanitisers at the ports of entry.
- Purpose of the oversight visit.
The purpose of the oversight visits to Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry was asses to assess the impact of the congestion by migrants entering South Africa. A concern was raised that some migrants attempt to enter the country without the required documentation, such as the passports and negative COVID-19 certificates. There also reports that about 4 to 5 truck drivers died due to exhaustion while waiting to cross into Zimbabwe.
- Composition of the delegation.
The delegation comprised of the following
African National Congress(ANC):
Adv. BT Bongo - Chairperson
Mr MS Chabane
Ms TI Legwase
Mr DL Moela
Democratic Alliance (DA):
Ms TA Khanyile
Mr AC Roos
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF):
Mr M Tshwaku
Mr Eddy Mathonsi – Committee Secretary
Mr Pakamile Hlungwani – Committee Researcher
Ms Nandipha Maxhegwana – Committee Assistant
Mr EM Molepo – Communication Officer
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, South Africa closed 35 of its border crossings in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Almost all countries around the world closed their borders, including South Africa's neighbouring countries. ,. The truck drivers congestion at Beitbridge Port of Entry due to the stringent requirement to enter through Groblersburg port of entry between South Africa and Botswana. Some truck drivers decided to divert to Beitbridge port of entry.
Among the countries in the SADC region, it appears there is a lack of coordination, and the Covid-19 has exposed the weaknesses of the cross-border infrastructure and the lack of coordination. If one country decides to close borders, innocent citizens are caught up in the middle.
Zimbabwe decided to imposed a hard lockdown from 5 January 2021 until 5 February 2021 with a curfew which started from 18:00 – 06:00 with strict lockdown regulations. Under level 1, South Africa had a curfew that began at 23:00 until 04:00
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would have moved from level 1 to level 3 lockdown regulation to curb the spread of the covid-19 with a curfew from 21:00 until 05:00 and the closures of the 20 land ports of entry until 15 February 2021.
As a result of the reported congestion at Beitbridge port of entry between 23 -26 December 2020 and a potential humanitarian crisis that seemed to be unfolding at the port of entry, the Portfolio Committee decided to conduct an oversight visit to Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry. There was also a report that many people from Mozambique were crossing illegally into South Africa at Mbuzini borderline.
- Oversight visit to Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry as well as the borderline at Mbuzini
- The Beitbridge Port of Entry.
The Deputy Director-General for Immigration Services made the presentation. He stated that the Beitbridge Port of Entry is the busiest land port in South Africa bordering South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa has 72 Ports of Entry that includes land, air and sea. Of the 72 Ports of Entry, 53 are land Ports of Entry. Beitbridge, Lebombo and Maseru are the biggest Ports of Entry. Between December 2020 and January 2021, there have been challenges of congestion at Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry as well as Maseru Port of Entry between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The Beitbridge is also a Presidential Infrastructure priority and the POE links on the Northern South corridor in terms of the Africa Continental Trade. The trade agreement will cover a market consisting of 1.2 billion people and has been signed by 54 of the 55 African Union member states. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will create a single market for goods and services to boost trade among the African nations. Beitbridge port of entry will play a critical role to facilitate the AfCFTA because it is the gateway to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the rest of Africa.
Beitbridge is a commercial port of entry within the Vhembe District under Musina Municipality in Limpopo Province, and it is 12 kilometres from the Musina Township. The POE serves as the gateway to the Southern African Development Communities and Central Africa. e according to their respective mandates, the POE operates on a 24 hour and all border Law Enforcement entities provide services. The following departments are at the POE permanently: The Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the South African Revenue Services (SARS/Customs), the South Africa Police Service (SAPS), the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and the Department of Health (Port Heath).
The other departments such as the South African National Defence (SANDF) including Intelligence, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and SAPS Crime Intelligence and State Security Agency (SSA), Department of Social Development and Traffic Management are at the POE when they are needed.
Each department at the POE has its mandate. The DHA is responsible for exit and entry of individuals and specifically checks for passports and visas. SARS is responsible for custom control services, customs law enforcement, licensing of goods as well as policing of counterfeit goods.SAPS is responsible for cross-border policing and law enforcement SANDF is responsible for border safeguarding and surveillance on the borderline. Port Health Services is responsible for public health, and sanitary inspection and quarantine service and DAFF is responsible for Phytosanitary services related to the inspection of plant and animal products.
On 23 – 26 December 2020, the congestion caused an uproar in the country. The DHA reported that the congestion was not caused by more people crossing the border into Zimbabwe. It was reported that the people who crossed the Beitbridge border in December 2019 was 368 895 as opposed to 103 224 people who crossed the border during December 2020. .
The congestion between 23 – 26 December 2020 was caused by trucks due to strict COVID-19 requirement for truck drivers in Botswana. The truck drivers diverted from Groblersburg Port of Entry to Beitbridge Port of Entry. Groblersbrug is Port of Entry between South Africa and Botswana.
In terms of numbers of trucks that crossed the Groblersbrug POE in December 2019, it was reported that 6 706 trucks crossed through Groblersburg POE and the number at Beitbridge POE was 19 800. In comparison with the numbers in December 2020, the number of trucks that crossed at Groblersbrug POE decreased to 2 968, and the number at Beitbridge POE increased to 21 800. The number of trucks that crossed at Beitbridge POE in 2020 increased by 2000 trucks compared to the trucks that crossed in 2019.
It was reported to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs that there was an agreement between the government of South Africa and truck drivers that there would be a holding area where the truckers would engage with the clearing agencies. The holding areas had ablution facilities and water. The truckers at Beitbridge POE abandoned the holding areas and occupied the N1 and the oncoming lanes. It was also reported that the SARS system in South Africa is automated and manual in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe can only process between 20 – 30 trucks per hour. This caused the congestion in and around the port of entry.
It was reported in the media that 4 or 5 truck drivers had died as a result of congestion. According to the DHA information, it was only one elderly truck driver who died due to exhaustion. The story of about 4 or 5 truck drivers who had died, it was reported by the Road Freight Association in South Africa and failed to back it up with evidence. They could not produce the names of the truck drivers who they claimed died due to the congestion.
On 28 of December 2020, The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) had a planning session to plan for the new year arrivals. The new year arrivals, the operation started from 2 – 14 January 2021.
It was further reported that there were capacity issues with the Port Health wherein it was reported that there are only 6 Portfolio Health per shift. The majority of the people who came to the POE came without negative Covid-19 PCR certificates, and Port Health through NHLS tested all those without the certificates, which led to long queues.
The DHA provided additional 160 officials between 2 – 14 January 2021 to Beitbridge, Lebombo, Oshoek, Maseru, Ficksburg and Kopfontein. It was not indicated how the additional officials ; were assigned per POE; consequently, it was difficult to know how many officials were at Beitbridge and Lebombo POEs.. There are also additional 60 immigration officials to support the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) at the borderline to curb illegal migration into South Africa. T. The Department of Health deployed 255 officials and 278 Contract Community Service and 73 Military Health Service Personnel. This deployment of the additional officials was done for the period when people who had gone home would be coming back to South Africa.
It was a requirement that all travellers entering South Africa must have a negative covid-19 certificate. Port Health through the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) conducted the tests for those who came without certificates to the port of entry. It was reported that at Beitbridge POE, 1 115 Antigen tests were conducted, and 98 people tested positive between 1 – 5 January 2021. There were about 1 123 fraudulent covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) certificates, and 1 176 arrests were made.
It was reported to the Committee that the high level of congestion at Beitbridge, Lebombo and Maseru was due to the following factors:
- Testing of all travellers at the South African Ports of Entry through Port Health which had capacity challenges.
- The price of PCR covid-19 certificates which Lesotho charges R850 and Zimbabwe that charges $60 and the National Health Laboratory Service charges R170 at the POE. This contributes to the large number of people who came to POEs to have their tests done.
- The stringent lockdown measures in Botswana made about 2000 truck drivers divert to Beitbridge.
- The truck 'drivers' violation of South African enforcement and corruption among law enforcement.
- Congestion due to fear of lockdown in Zimbabwe.
- Lots of fake PCR Coviid-19 certificates.
- Illegal crossing and assistance by Zimbabwean soldiers and Zimbabwean Police.
After the presentation, the Committee was taken to the bridge at the no-' 'man's land. The Committee saw people crossing the Limpopo River illegal using a rope into South Africa. This showed the desperation of how people want to get into South Africa at any cost. The people who were congested on the South African side had been clear by 6 January 2021, and the Committee can confirm that. It was also indicated that the congestion was also caused by the misalignment of curfew in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Before the hard lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwean would process people at night. When the South African side opens in the morning, there are already people waiting to be processed into South Africa.
The other main challenge is trucks that congest on the bridge with their cargo, and this cause a strain on the bridge.
- Lebombo Port of Entry.
The Lebombo POE borders South Africa and Mozambique, and it is the second busiest POE after Beitbridge POE. This is an important port on the Maputo/RSA corridor. The number of people that travelled through Lebombo in December 2018 was 528 590, in December 2019 it was 516 746, and in December 2020 the number of travellers decreased to 164 009.
During the festive season in 2020/21, about 18 932 Antigen tests were conducted and approximately 348 positive cases were detected and about 2 929 fraudulent covid-19 certificates that were confiscated.
It was reported that there was a lack of effective control of movement on the borderline, and there is a need to install a secure borderline fence. There is also a challenge deploying the SANDF due to lack of resources and lack of staff accommodation. The current design of Lebombo POE is inadequate to provide services. Just outside the POE, there is taxi rank and traders on the South African side, and there is no cargo scanner at Lebombo POE, and SARS only use sniffer dogs and human intervention.
It was reported that Port Health had capacity challenges concerning testing of travellers for Covid-19. Two other private companies were assisting the Port Health to test for Covid-19. It was also reported, and this was confirmed by the Committeethattwo private companies that were assisting the Port Health to conduct tests, were not present on their duty station on 14 January 2021. This was due to the testing equipment that was finished. It was also reported that the Mozambican government did not want to accept the Antigen tests until the South African government engaged with them.
It was reported that the One-Stop Border Post (OSBP) was more advanced at the Lebombo POE. The South African government had signed an agreement with the government of Mozambique. The Lebombo POE operates from 06:00 – 00:00 and during the festive season, the Minister of Home Affairs grants approval for the POE to operate on a 24-hour basis. Through Bi-National Commission, Mozambique's proposal is to extend operational hours to 24 'hours' basis.
The Committee conducted a walkabout an engaged with travellers who were waiting to be assisted. The travellers who were South Africans reported that they have slept the border and have been waiting to be assisted and the border was closed at night. They also reported that there is no ATM at the POE to ensure that they can pay for the Covid-19 certificates. The point of sales that NHLS had not been working.
The Committee observed that travellers were no adhering to Covid-19 protocols. There was no social distancing, and some people did not wear face masks. The travellers reported that the toilets were dirty and no sanitisers. They fear that there might contract the coronavirus at the border.
After conducting an oversight visit to Lebombo POE, the Committee proceeded to Mbuzini to observe the borderline fence between South Africa, Mozambique and eSwatini. It was reported that large groups of people from Mozambique were in the mountains, waiting to cross into South Africa illegally. There are about 50 roads through which illegal crossing takes place from Mozambique into South Africa. The people who crossed into South Africa, it was reported that they are assisted by taxis to ferry them from the villages at the borderline into small towns. While on the way to the borderline at Mbuzini, the soldiers had apprehended about 13 people with small kids who had already entered South Africa.
The Committee observed the border fence between South Africa and eSwatini. The borderline fence does not serve in purpose in terms of deterring people from crossing. Its only purpose is only is just a line demarcating the neighbouring countries.
- Committee Observations
4.1. The Committee observed that the DHA presentation did not have timeframes on what needs to be done.
4.2. There was no commitment shown on the presentation on funding and operationalisation of the Border Management Authority (BMA).
4.3. It appears that there was no political will to resolve the issue at the South African Ports of Entry.
4.4. Based on the presentation and observation, there were fewer people who crossed both the Beitbridge and Lebombo POEs, but there was still congestion.
4.5. There is a lack of joint planning amongst the departments and organs of state operating at the POEs such as DHA, SARS, SAPS, SANDF, Port Health and DAFF.
4.6. There is little evidence of co-operation between the South African government and the six neighbouring countries with respect to finding common ground on border management and security.
4.7. The second busiest land port of entry, Lebombo, does not operate on a 24-hour basis, which adds to the congestion.
4.8. There is a lack of coordination and co-operation between the state agencies operating in all ports of entry
4.9. The DHA, which has the custodianship of managing entry and exit of people and trucks along South Africa's borders, shy away from coordinating all stakeholders operation at the ports of entries. As a result, there is significant evidence of a lack of leadership and no accountability at the operational level of border management.
5.1. The Department of Home Affairs should take responsibility for coordinating with other government departments and organs of state operating at the border environment.
5.2. There should be a political will to resolve the challenges faced at the POEs. There should be a commitment by the South African government to fund and operationalise the BMA. The implementation plan of the BMA with timeframes should be forwarded as soon as possible.
5.3. It is recommended that a multi-department investigation led by the DHA should be conducted on what when wrong during the festive season. The outcomes of the enquiery should form part of the borderline operational plan during the peak period and times of crisis such as a emegercies such as COVID-19.
5.3. In terms of coordination, the DHA ensure that the Port Health deploy enough staff to deal with testing at all POEs, particularly Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru and Ficksburg.
5.4. The One-Stop Border Post (OSBP) should be implemented by the DHA as soon as possible at the Beitbridge and Lebombo Ports of Entry and the implementation plan with timeframes the OSBP should be forwarded to the Committee as soon as possible.
5.5. During this time of the Coronavirus pandemic, the DHA and other government departments a organs of state operating at the POEs should ensure that the Covid-19 protocols are followed by all travellers entering South Africa.
5.6. The DHA should coordinate joint planning with neighbouring countries that border South Africa to ensure smooth operation at the POEs during the festive and peak seasons.
5.7. The DHA should engage with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to use the Community Development Workers (CDWs) to assist the Department of Home Affairs at its offices.
5.8. 5.8. The Department of Home Affairs, together with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), should follow up on the operation of Lebombo Port of Entry on a 24-hour basis.
5.9. It is evident that no amount of border security deterance will prevent illegal immigrants crossing into South Africa. The most crucial border security and management instrument is to promote political stability, good governance, and economic growth in the SADC region. Therefore, South Africa, through available multilateral forums and international relations instruments should endeavour to assit the region in improving their socio-economic conditions. This will require political will and determination from the country’s executive.
The Committee requested that the Director-General and the Acting BMA Commissioner ensure that the Covid-19 protocols at Lebombo POE were observed from 14 January 2021 going forward and the Department of Home Affairs should initiate that a comprehensive report together with other government departments operating at the ports of entry is prepared. The report should be presented to Security Cluster Committees in Parliament.
Report to be considered.
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