If we want to stop drugs we need to protect our borders – Mmusi Maimane

DA leader says increase in drug crime is not just a statistic but a catastrophe that is destroying lives

If we want to stop drugs we need to protect our borders

5 July 2018

My fellow South Africans

We chose to come here today to do this oversight visit, because the two local police stations here – Mahikeng and Mmabatho – have seen a 538% and 323% increase in drug crime over the last 10 years.

This is not just a crime statistic, it is a catastrophe of destroyed lives.

We cannot hope to build a stable and prosperous South Africa if we cannot keep our children safe. Any investment in our country must begin with them.

But when you look at the effects of drugs and drug-related crime in our communities, then we have to admit that we are failing to protect them.

This is a problem across the entire country, but I want to specifically point out the alarming rise in drug crimes here in this province. There are 84 police stations in the North West province, and almost all of them have reported a dramatic increase in drug-related crime over the past decade.

Province-wide, drug crime has risen by 108% since 2007, and these two local police stations – Mahikeng and Mmabatho – have shown a five-fold and three-fold increase respectively.

At the same time there have been various reports of cross-border drug trafficking. Two years ago a truck was searched at the Kopfontein border post near Zeerust after sniffer dogs reacted. Custom officials found almost one-and-a-half million mandrax tablets worth nearly R80 million in a hidden compartment. They arrested two people – one Tanzanian and one Zambian national.

One year earlier, 16 border police officers and three Home Affairs officials were arrested at the same border post for aiding smugglers and accepting bribes. You don’t have to be a detective to connect the dots.

Given the massive spike in drug-related crime in the North West, we have to ask ourselves: what else have we been missing here? It has long been known that the border between Botswana and South Africa is like a drug highway – both into and out of South Africa.

A big part of the problem is that our borders are so easy to cross illegally.

If we want to keep our children safe from drugs, then one of the first things we must do is to secure our borders.

South Africa has 53 land border crossings, and 15 of those are along the 1000km-long Botswana border. If we’re not sure who or what is entering our country through the many ports of entry, such as the border crossing here at Ramatlabama, then we cannot protect our children and our communities.

And it’s not only drug crime either. Stock theft, the movement of stolen vehicles and human trafficking happen far too easily across our borders.

Two years ago, during a routine check point right here in Mahikeng, police discovered 57 undocumented children in the back of an unventilated delivery truck from Malawi. These children were likely destined for child labour and prostitution, and thank goodness they were found. But how many have we missed?

We have to make it our priority to properly secure our borders and prevent illegal immigrants and goods from entering our country.

At the same time, we must also honour our legal and moral obligation to take in genuine refugees and asylum-seekers, and treat them with dignity. This starts here at the border post, but it includes every step of the journey, where vulnerable people who simply want to get themselves documented are still regularly exploited and abused by police members, Home Affairs staff and guards.

If we are to tackle the scourge of drug trafficking, human trafficking and all the other crimes committed across our borders, then we will have to urgently prioritise the following four things:

Firstly, we need to secure our borders and fix our fences. We must make it almost impossible for people to enter the country illegally. This includes rooting out corruption at our border posts and handing out harsh sentences for those found guilty.

Secondly, we must make a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration. We must make the process for those who wish to enter legally clear and simple, and we must go out of our way to attract skilled workers. But those who cross our borders without permission must know that it is against the law, and that they will be stopped.

Third, we need to take stronger action against those who employ illegal immigrants.

And fourth, we must urgently address corruption, inefficiency and capacity constraints in the administration process for refugee or asylum seekers.

In addition to these four steps, we must also demand accountability from those entrusted to guard the entrances to our country – from the officers in charge of our border posts to the Ministers of Police and Home Affairs.

These cross-border crimes, and specifically the drug trade, are destroying the lives of thousands of our young people. As a country we need to say: No more.

Our government has a Constitutional duty to protect all its citizens. As a country we need to start holding them to account, or replacing them with one that is prepared to fulfil this duty.

Thank you.

Issued by Mmusi MaimaneLeader of the Democratic Alliance, 5 July 2018