The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs was critical of the congestion that remains evident at the Lebombo border post between South Africa and Mozambique and called for political will to resolve the challenges. The committee visited the border as part of its oversight to Beitbridge and Lebombo to assess progress in implementing interventions to the humanitarian and health risks prevalent during the festive season.

“We find it unacceptable that people were forced to wait for a long time at the border due to inadequate capacity, particularly of port health practitioners to test returning South Africans and migrant workers who have permission to cross the border in terms of regulations. The situation has the potential to become a super-spreader event and requires urgent intervention. We have also called for accountability for the challenges faced there,” said Advocate Bongani Bongo, the Chairperson of the committee.

The committee’s criticisms come in the context of the closure of 20 land borders, which meant that the ports of entry processed a limited number of people. “The situation undermines the intentions of the border closure and paints a negative picture of the stakeholder departments’ ability to process more people when the borders open again,” Adv Bongo emphasised. The committee also highlighted that the closure of borders did not mean stakeholder departments are on vacation and can relax. Instead, the intention is to give departments space to plan for the eventual opening of the border.  

What was astonishing for the committee was the lack of adherence to health protocols, like social distancing, incorrect wearing of masks and availability of sanitisers, which have been proven as effective tools to fight Covid-19.

Travellers interviewed by the committee mentioned various challenges, including the limited health practitioners and non-functioning speed point machines, contributing to slow-moving queues and which prolonged their presence at the port. “We have been here for over two days and we are worried that we will be infected with Covid-19 at this border,” a traveller told the committee.

The committee said that the lack of coordination at the border contributed to its call for the urgent implementation of the Border Management Authority (BMA) Act, signed into law by the President last year. The Act intends to centralise command and control at ports of entry and ensure that people are held accountable for the operation. “Right now, all we see are departments accusing each other as contributors to the challenges, a situation that will be remedied by the BMA,” Adv Bongo said.

As a result of the challenges, the committee instructed departmental stakeholders to develop and implement an urgent intervention plan, which must be rolled out within 14 hours to clear the backlog. The committee also called for urgent implementation of basic health protocols to save lives.

The committee also instructed the stakeholder departments to develop a joint report setting out challenges and solutions to be tabled before a joint meeting with sister portfolio committees in Parliament. Also, the committee resolved to invite the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, to its next meeting to account for the challenges at Lebombo.

Regarding the issue of illegal crossing of the border, the committee was unanimous in its appreciation for the work of the South African National Defence Force, which has made a number of arrests in efforts to deter illegal crossings.

 Malatswa Molepo
15 January 2021