In December and January, at the height of South Africa’s second Covid-19 wave, people were crammed into long queues at the country’s land borders. These were subsequently closed on 11 January.
On Tuesday, the department of home affairs presented its plan to reopen them to its portfolio committee.
That presentation was lambasted, with Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) committee member Mgcini Tshwaku saying the report lacked practicality and had flaws.
“I thought you were going to give us a detailed report with concrete insights on the state of readiness for the opening of ports of entry next week. All we are hearing is that you’re still planning and lobbying. This report lacks detail of how you’re going to handle the thousands of people who will be entering South Africa,” said Tshwaku.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi told the committee that his department is ready to open the land ports on 15 February, as planned. However a few things still needed to be finalised.
“We are having a meeting with the department of health this afternoon, to finalise those outstanding details,” he said.
Acting commissioner of the Border Management Agency (BMA) Gene Ravele told the committee that the ports of entry will operate between 6am until 9pm once they are opened.
“We have also tried to align these times with the curfew times of other countries,” said Ravele.
“It should be noted that home affairs (immigration services) and health (port health services) are the only two departments in a port that deals directly with every person who travels through ports.The shortage of health staff is the main reason why we experienced congestion at health service delivery points, while immigration work counters were empty,” he told the committee.
“The decision for the re-opening of ports is to be taken by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and an announcement would follow for the reopening, it would be therefore imperative to ensure that ports are ready to deliver the required services,” said Ravele.
The department also said the shortage of staff in these borders was also a big challenge for them, but before the end of the week they will ensure that many more hands are deployed, even if that meant engaging the SANDF health services. The Lebombo and Beitbridge borders were cited as the most troublesome as there were a number of fraudulent Covid-19 documents that the department says came from there.
According to Tshwaku, adding more police personnel will not aid the situation in the ports and might breed violence.
“The real problem here is that home affairs is not focused on the practicalities here. I was there and saw for myself that there is no order in these borders, no PPE, no social distancing and you have only one person in some instances assisting a lot of people who are getting into the country,” he added.
“The problem in the first place was that you didn’t deploy enough people together with the department of health. You must stop being political and use the science associated with Covid-19,” Tshwaku added.