Saturday, April 4, 2020

Botswana in costly security breach

A costly security breach by government officials has turned Ramotswa village into a major smuggling route for international human traffickers, drug dealers, car hijackers and contraband smugglersÔÇô Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.
The Botswana border fence running from Sikwane to the Pioneer Border Gate in Lobatse has not been repaired since it collapsed in 1999. All government departments are shirking the responsibility, and a vote initially created for the repair of border fences has been discontinued.

Confronted by The Sunday standard this week on who is responsible for fixing border fences, the Department of Surveys and Mapping, Botswana Police Service and the Office of the President all passed the buck.

A confidential report compiled by a team of Botswana and South African officials who inspected the fence between 31st August and 2nd September 1999 observed that the border fence from Sikwane to Pioneer border gate had rusted and needed replacement. The team also found that the intersection at the pipeline from Marico Dam with the boundary had become an open gate for stolen vehicles, oranges and other stolen goods to enter Botswana illegally.

The Sunday Standard can reveal that since the report that revealed how Botswana border fences were vulnerable to criminals was released in 1999, Botswana has not fixed the fences. Botswana last spent P177 266,15 in early 1999, fixing the fence which is now run down and laced with smuggling routes and transnational criminal organizations who smuggle drugs, illegal contraband and human cargo in and out of the country.

Ramotswa Police Station Commander, Sarah Gabathuse, confirmed to Sunday Standard that “the border fence is so dilapidated and for the most part, there is absolutely no fence, its plain ground.”

The collapsed Ramotswa border fence has become a smuggling route for Botswana’s human trafficking network. The Diamond and Narcotics Squad (DNS) has been investigating more than 100 suspects, including local Asian businessmen, police officers and labour consultants, believed to be part of an organized smuggling ring that has been trafficking illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan into Botswana and then to South Africa.

Gabathuse revealed that Ramotswa police had noticed that there was an organized crime syndicate operating in the area, which assisted foreigners of Asian origin to cross the border illegally into South Africa. She told The Sunday Standard that although they have been getting tip offs about the operations of the human trafficking cells in the area they have not been able to nab anyone mainly because of the state of the border fence and limited resources.

She further revealed that there was another trafficking cell in the area that helps smuggle Zimbabwean illegal immigrants out of Botswana, for a fee. The area has also become a preferred smuggling route for motor vehicle thieves. Six vehicles were reported stolen in Ramotswa over the Independence Day holiday weekend.

Gabathuse told the media recently that the trend had been going on since June, with three vehicles stolen that month; three more in July and another three in August.

Supt Gabathuse said one more vehicle was stolen on September 20, bringing the total number of stolen vehicles that month to seven. The seven vehicles include three mini buses, three cars and one truck.

Acting Police Commissioner, Kenny Kapinga, acknowledged that because of the proximity of the area to the border, Ramotswa is prone to being used as a smuggling route by motor vehicle thieves, drug dealers and human traffickers. The situation is not helped by the dilapidated fence.

Sunday Standard can reveal that there are no permanent border fence patrols and besides the collapsed fence there is nothing stopping human traffickers, drug dealers, contraband smugglers and car hijackers crossing in and out of Botswana.
Kapinga, however, told Sunday Standard that they have recently put together a special task force from the No 13 District to man the border area.
Director of Defence, Justice and Security, Ross Sanato, says while they are responsible for the security of borders, the Department of Surveys and Mapping was responsible for the construction of the border fence.

Director of Surveys and Mapping, Bryson Morebodi, however, holds a different view. He told Sunday Standard that “we have neither the capacity nor the expertise for fencing and, therefore, cannot have been assigned such a task.” Morebodi said they only acted as technical advisors on the positioning of the border line.

Sunday Standard investigations revealed that Botswana entered into an agreement with South Africa in 1963. Article 5 of the agreement provided that South Africa would construct and maintain the fence and would pass half of the costs to Botswana. A special vote was created under the then Department of Surveys and Lands which would pay Botswana’s part of the cost.

The South African Apartheid regime, which was keen on maintaining the fence to control the movement of ANC guerrillas, kept up the maintenance and passed the Botswana bill to the Department of Surveys and Lands. Indications are that the current South African regime is not as keen and the last maintenance was in 1999 to the tune of P3, 54453, 29 and Botswana paid P177 266, 15 as its contribution.

Morebodi explained that they conveyed their concerns to the Office of the President in 1999 that the vote was misplaced with them and three years ago the vote was stopped.

Indications are that there is currently no vote for the maintenance of border fences.

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