by Barry Streek, Mail & Guardian, 19 July 2001
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The South Africa-Zimbabwe border is leaking like a sieve with more than 200 holes in the security fence around the Beitbridge border post, army patrols that only come on duty at 10pm and widespread fraud and corruption.
This has been reported by the National Assembly's portfolio committee on home affairs.
"We saw many holes in the fence at Beitbridge, and we were told that the holes have been there for a long time, despite many pleas to the Department of Public Works to fix them," the committee said in a report tabled in Parliament.
The Department of Home Affairs is meant to be doing everything possible to prevent illegal immigrants entering the country.
But the select committee concluded that "people jump the fence at border posts due to lack of control and personnel. Border posts are also ill-equipped".
It found corruption: "Immigration officials are easily bribed as their salaries are low and the system followed at border posts is insufficient to stop organised crime. There is a lack of sufficient management in the immigration section at Beitbridge."
The committee also criticised the lack of human resources in the Department of Home Affairs, especially in the immigration services section, and its insufficient budget, which led to a lack of computers, furniture, office space, cars and cellphones.
The regional director of home affairs in the Northern Province, MV Mabunda, who met the committee at Beitbridge in April, said three people a month in the province were dismissed from the department because of fraud. He said poor management at the border post was a contributing factor to the fraud.
"Officials indicated that Chinese and Pakistani people are crossing the Limpopo river at night. They are ferried across by syndicates," the report read.
"When people enter South Africa without the proper documentation, it does not take them long to obtain documentation by fraudulent means."
The head of immigration at Beitbridge told the committee that the fraud and corruption at the border post could not be controlled.
He attributed this to various factors including the lack of security at the gate: "There are more than 200 holes in the security fence around the border post" and "The South African National Defence Force only comes on duty at 10pm every night."
Beitbridge is the largest port of entry into South Africa and 42 000 transit visas were issued for Zimbabwean citizens in 1999, and twice that number last year.
A shocking lack of facilities at five South African border posts with Botswana has been uncovered by the committee.
At the Bray border post used by 150 people every day, the committee found there were no toilets or running water and "there is also no shade for people to stand in, nor space inside the building for the public".
Home affairs staff at Bray handled identity applications and registration of births but they "have to use the South African Police Service's [SAPS] telephone and fax facilities, as they do not have their own".
At the Mokopong border post, home affairs personnel share a building with the police because of the lack of office space, and they rely on the police to do their banking because they have no transport.
At the Makgobistad border post, where the border runs through the Barolong tribe many people jump the fence, including children from Botswana who attend school in South Africa.
At the Ramathlabama border post, "the electricity regularly cuts out, and this causes computer data to be lost and damaged. There is no back-up system for the computers, and technicians have to come from head office to assist; the computers are also not linked to the mainframe."
At the Skilpadsnek border post, "the office is very small and ill-equipped. There are no telephones, and officials have to beg the SAPS when they need to phone. There are also no proper toilets," the committee said in its report, which has been tabled in Parliament.