As African National Congress (ANC) leaders cosy up to their comrades in the stands of Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban during this weekend’s merrymaking that would be marking the organisation’s 107th anniversary celebrations, they could be excused for temporarily wanting to forget about an international crisis seemingly looming back in Limpopo.
The ticking time-bomb that constitutes the immigration and interior affairs problems posed by the logistical burden on a province eagerly branded the gateway to southern Africa and playing host to some of the country’s boundaries targeted by most frequent cross-border activity, was about to detonate soon if left unattended, warned Democratic Alliance (DA) leaders upon inspection of border posts and Home Affairs offices in Limpopo earlier this week.
DA Team One South Africa spokesperson on immigration and Parliamentarian Jacques Julius underscored the intention to escalate the issue of Limpopo’s porous borders and the state of illegal immigrants to Parliament and to challenge President Cyril Ramaphosa to address the problems.
Julius was joined on visits to Groblersbrug, Stockpoort and Pontdrift border posts as well as to Department of Home Affairs offices at those junctions and in Polokwane, Mokopane and Lephalale by DA Provincial Leader Jacques Smalle and National Council of Provinces DA member Beyers Smit on Monday and Tuesday. It was learnt that their inspection of facilities coincided with a reported influx of foreign nationals and resultant long queues at venues, especially experienced in the beginning of the new year and during an annual peak time stretching from December to January.
While at the Polokwane offices of the Department of Home Affairs on Tuesday morning, DA representatives interacted with members of the public waiting in line to obtain identification documents in a queue evidently almost twice the length of what it usually appears to be.
Among them was a mother from Ga-Mashashane accompanied by her daughters of 22 months and 11 years at the back of the queue. She had left home at 07:00 and by then had already waited for around three hours to be assisted, she explained. Lamenting the fact that the baby was getting hungry at the time, she said she was not sure whether she was going to make the expected cut-off time that determined only a certain number of people being assisted on a given day.
At the same time the delegation was informed by a woman from Ga-Matlala that she had been to the Home Affairs offices in Mokopane the previous day without success. She commuted by taxi to Polokwane on Tuesday in the hope of getting help with an identification document, according to her.
Smalle in the meantime established that the offices in Polokwane would have been open until 18:00 that day. He simultaneously referred to their visits to the respective locations and said they had encountered similar queues in Lephalale on Monday. The delegation was on the way to Mokopane upon conclusion of their visit to the offices of the Department of Home Affairs in Polokwane.
He mentioned they had been informed that a mere 18 immigration officers serviced the entire Capricorn District, with 15 of them being stationed in Polokwane and one each at Seshego, Lebowakgomo and Senwabarwana which translated into them individually dealing with an average 200 cases a week.
Turning to their findings at Groblersbrug border post, Smit remarked that it had to be relocated due to the border post being situated in a flood area and according to available information it had flooded twice since 2000. Smalle further pointed out that they had been informed that 350 to 450 trucks daily passed through the post, which apparently operated without a scanner and had become an alternative to Beit Bridge border post for drivers having cargo on board that they wanted to transport into the country without having to declare it.
Xeno tendencies linked to porous borders, inaction
At Pontdrift, Julius pointed out, they had witnessed tyre tracks of vehicles having crossed the river illegally. In this regard he stressed the need for the borders to be secured and government having to get the immigration system right. Because of porous borders and inaction of government xenophobic tendencies towards people of other countries were being witnessed, he added when saying it all boiled down to capacity.
Fake identification allows abuse of SA goodwill
When earlier addressing challenges reportedly faced by officials in the employ of the department that were brought to their attention, Julius among others underscored foreigners being in possession of fake identification documents that allowed them to claim and live off services in South Africa while others only entered to cash in on resources before crossing back over the borders.
Other than that he also referenced the reported shortage of immigration officers, capacity and operations being problematic, the concentration of illegal immigrants in hotspots and requests by staff for uniforms and identification cards allegedly falling on deaf ears. Smalle further raised the issues of overtime reportedly not being paid to departmental officials and personnel suffering burn-out. Calling the situation appalling and comparing it to a ticking time-bomb, Julius added that anyone could take advantage of the status quo. He emphasised the need to tackle the problem head-on and said if left unattended “we’ll be in trouble soon”
Story & photos: YOLANDE NEL