South Africa's border chief says not all Zimbabweans without passports are criminals


South Africa's Border Management Authority (BMA) Commissioner Mike Masiapato has defended the rights of some Zimbabweans who cross the border into South Africa without passports to buy scarce goods and return to their country. He said they are not necessarily criminals, but rather victims of the economic and political situation in Zimbabwe.

Not all Zimbabweans without passports in South Africa are criminals, SA's BMA Commissioner says

Masiapato made these remarks on the SA television channel Newzroom Africa, where he laid out the different categories of Zimbabweans who enter South Africa and how the BMA subsequently deals with them. 

He said the BMA is not targeting all Zimbabweans who cross the border without passports, but only those involved in criminal activities such as smuggling contraband.

He acknowledged that passports command a steep price for some Zimbabweans to acquire in their home country, yet they need to buy groceries in Musina for re-sale back home. He remarked:

"We have committed to start engaging along the separation of the various groups of people that we are dealing with so that we can be able to isolate those individuals who are supposed to be a target of law enforcers, those who are supposed to be the criminals.

"If you were to look at the situation between us and Zimbabwe, it basically presents a number of groupings for different purposes.

"A typical example is … we have a lot of Zimbabweans who have documents, who basically come into South Africa in Musina town in particular to procure normal foodstuffs, things that they need to go and sell back in Zimbabwe primarily because they are not able to access them on the Zimbabwean side either because they are too expensive or they are unavailable. Those ones we facilitate on a daily basis.

"But there is a second group which is fairly the same kind of people who want to come and buy things and go sell them but they don’t have passports.

"The reason they don’t have passports is the expensive nature of the reality of getting a passport on the Zimbabwean side and don’t they access them.

"They are not necessarily criminals, they just don’t have passports. So they will then cross the border into South Africa and buy things.

"So those are the ones that we are going to be able to have a mechanism as to how do we address those groups of individuals with the Zimbabweans.

"Then we separate those who must be the real target of our work and those who are pushing illegal things."

Masiapato's statement comes amid growing anti-immigrant sentiment and migration policies in South Africa that have increasingly become acerbic for African migrants. South Africa has been a destination country for many migrants from other African countries. 

South Africans however believe that African migrants are responsible for criminal activities in South Africa, and are not contributing positively to the country thereby prejudicing South Africans from opportunities [which they believe rightly belong to them] such as employment. 

The BMA is now the third armed service in South Africa after the South African National Defence Force and the South African Police Service. 

It is mandated to perform border management functions within ports of entry as well as the law enforcement area.

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