The declaration of the national lockdown following the outbreak of the Coronavirus has once again brought the spotlight on the border security, but how easy is it to prevent the movement of people between South Africa, Mozambique and Eswatini?
In terms of the amended Disaster Management Act, 2002 Regulations, Regulation 11B(6)(a) “all borders of the Republic are closed during the period of lockdown, except for transportation of fuel, and essential goods.”
Soon after the declaration of the 21-day lockdown, one of our investigative journalists visited the tripoint – the point where South Africa, Mozambique and Eswatini meet, which is located at Mbuzini in Mpumalanga to assess the situation.
He found that it was business as usual. The people from the three countries were moving in and out as has been the case for centuries. There was no visibility of soldiers or any form of law enforcement on all the sides of the three countries.
But border control between the three countries is like no other ordinary border around the world, where there are high fences which are difficult to scale, but about waits high fences, where locals have built step ladders to cross over to the other side.
In fact, it exposes the weakness of the colonial borders. When the borders were drawn they split one tribe into three: Mbuzini remained in South Africa, Lomahasha in Swaziland and Namaacha in Mozambique.
While located in the three countries, geographically and speaking two different languages, Siswati and Xitsonga, the tribes owe their allegiance to one Inkhosi (chief), Mandla Mlambo II who is based in Mbuzini in South Africa.
All three are descendants of Lomahasha Mahlalela.
“There’s an informal agreement, because there’s nowhere it is written. When the new chief is to be installed in Lomahasha (Eswatini) and Namaacha Mozambique, King Mswati III and the Frelimo government have to consult Inkhosi Mlambo II in South Africa,” said South Africa’s the deputy minister of tourism, Fish Mahlalela, who resides in Mbuzini also from the Mahlalela tribe.
On Monday, Ziwaphi – The New Era sent an enquiry to the South African National Defence Force to establish what was being done to prevent the crossing of people between the three countries during the lockdown.
We also sent them the video to show them how the situation was following the declaration of the lockdown. The spokesperson seemed unsure.
“When you sent me that (video), we looked into it. Our members will be moving into that particular area as we speak. But that particular structure, they haven’t seen it.
“That’s why I’m saying that it’s either that structure, after they put it, they disassemble it, or it is not in there,” said Captain Thabo Sello of the SANDF.
The crossings, though informal, are well established and very visible. There are even soldiers that had been deployed there in the past, but they don’t stop people from crossing between the three countries because of the “unwritten” protocol.
“There are a number of the informal crossings, called sicanco in Siswati. Some are pedestrian thoroughfares, but others are used by motorised transport, particularly the one between South Africa and Swaziland.
“The numbers of people who use the informal crossings are so overwhelming to the point that the buses that ferry people from these informal crossings are usually full by the time they reach Mbuzini. That’s why the people of Mbuzini struggle with public transport to Nelspruit,” said Mahlalela.
The minister also indicated that, contrary to the view that Mozambicans and Swazis are the ones crossing into South Africa the most, in fact many South Africans cross into the two countries to buy cheap items, including petrol in Swaziland and African art fabrics in Mozambique.
On Tuesday, when Mahlalela visited one of the informal crossings, for the first time he observed that the SANDF stopping people from crossing between the two countries.
“Things have improved drastically. The SANDF had erected barricades, about 500 metres from the border line. Thus, vehicles and people can no longer cross,” said Mahlalela.
During the lockdown period, families who are located in the three countries would no longer be able to visit each other as they have been used to since the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994.
The real test, however, will be today, Friday 3 April, it’s social grant day in South Africa. Residents from Mozambique and Swaziland who have dual citizenship but live in Mozambique and Swaziland, are expected to cross the border to collect their social grants in South Africa.