The Department of Home Affairs has announced the commencement of South Africa’s new border management laws, which take effect this week.

The Border Management Authority (BMA) Act has taken effect from Monday, 15 August, with most sections commencing, according to Home Affairs minister, Aaron Motsoaledi.

The only sections that still need to be commenced involve those relating to the BMA commissioner appointments (sections 7 to 12) and various sub-committees and their roles (sections 24 to 27).

The BMA Act’s purpose is to establish and empower the Border Management Authority to achieve integrated border law enforcement within the border law enforcement area and at ports of entry in South Africa and to enable cooperation on and co-ordination of border management matters in general.

The gazetted commencement gives effect to the new border management regulations which were signed into law by president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020.

Changes to border management

The BMA was established as a national public entity, reporting to the minister of Home Affairs. Unlike the current system, which relies on a combination of over seven different departments – including SARS, the SAPS, and the SANDF – the new authority will employ its own guards to control and patrol the borders.

The BMA’s first cohort of 200 guards was deployed to vulnerable border posts in early July. The minister opened up all of South Africa’s ports of entry on 1 August, following two years of lockdown due to the Covid pandemic.

According to Motsoaledi, the commissioner of the BMA has the same authority as the commissioner of police, but the role is exclusively focused on the country’s borders.

These guards are safety staff who will be deployed to vulnerable border posts. Their duties include:

  • Attending the on and off-duty parades and being stationed as per deployment schedule.
  • Processing proactive and responsive complaint attendances.
  • Reporting on arrested illegal foreigners held in the temporary holding cells.
  • Safeguarding and controlling exhibits/evidence found to be handed over to other agencies.
  • Conducting arrests of illegal foreigners/ detainees to be transferred to the nearest ports of entry or police station for further handling.
  • Gathering information for compiled reports as required by higher authority.

Motsoaledi said that the guards will also be responsible for controls on the movement of goods and people, with a specific focus on preventing illegal foreigners from entering the country.

This will include:

  • Searching people, luggage and vehicles as per the relevant regulations on the planned roadblock/checkpoint operations in the port of entry and the vulnerable areas on the borderline.
  • Performing borderline duties, traffic checkpoint operations and other law enforcement duties at outer/inner perimeter areas.
  • Reporting on all illegal movement of people and goods.
  • Maintaining surveillance from covert positions at or near the international borders.

The minister said the new guards will also be responsible for conducting vehicle and foot patrols. and reporting on international visitors, travellers and shoppers for monitoring purposes.

Read: Government is making changes to South Africa’s borders in the coming months – what to expect