The trail, less than two kilometers from the village centre, crosses a rickety strand of rusty barbed wire tacked to a collapsed line and disappears into a thicket of bushes. It is here, in the dead of night, that many smugglers cross into South Africa.
This is just one of a dozen or more unofficial crossing points on the porous border area of Ramotswa.
Everything, from oranges to stolen cars, is ferried back and forth along these clandestine routes. The list of contraband goods now also extends to human beings.
The Diamond and Narcotics Squad has been investigating more than 100 suspects, including Asian businessmen, police officers and labour consultants who are believed to be part of an organized smuggling ring that has been trafficking illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan through Botswana to South Africa.
Another cell of human traffickers has found a happy hunting ground amid the collapsed fences and thicket of bushes where they smuggle Zimbabwean illegal immigrants into South Africa for a fee.
Cross border car racketeering is also flourishing here: Six vehicles were reported stolen in Ramotswa over the Independence Day holiday weekend.
Ramotswa Police Station Commander, Supt Sarah Gabathuse, told BOPA that the trend had been going on since June, with three vehicles stolen that month; three more in July and another three in August.
Gabathuse said one more vehicle was stolen on September 20, which brought the total number of stolen vehicles that month to seven. The seven vehicles include three mini buses, three cars and one truck.
However, Supt Gabathuse said one mini bus was found abandoned, as well as two cars and the truck.
The corpse of a suspected smuggler was last week fished out of the water after he was shot dead by a police patrol team.
Despite the fatality, the transnational criminal gangs behind the alleged smuggling network are likely to continue using Ramotswa as a smuggling route for drugs, stolen cars and trafficked humans to the South African market.
‘The criminal gangs believe the Ramotswa border fence is difficult to patrol and won’t give up just because of one setback. Some close to the police operation estimate that for a smuggler who is arrested another ninety nine will get through.’
For close to ten years now, the border fence from Sikwane to Pioneer border gate has collapsed, government officials will not fix it, anarchy of sorts has set in, for example villagers cross over to the other side of the border to collect firewood and gangs of transnational criminal organizations are having a field day on the unguarded frontiers.
“The border fence is so dilapidated and for the most part, there is absolutely no fence, its plain ground,” says Ramotswa Police Station Commander Sarah Gabathuse.
The Station Commander, however, does not know who is responsible for fixing the fence. After spending weeks knocking from one door to the next at the government enclave, she was finally sent back by the Office of the President officials with a promise that the fence would be fixed in two weeks. That was more than two months ago and government officials are still haggling over who should fix the border line.
The Director of Justice Defence and Security at the Office of the President, Ross Sanoto, says he is not aware of any pending border issue. He says while his office is responsible for border security, the department of Surveys and Mapping is responsible for erecting and maintaining border fences.
The Director of Surveys and Mapping, Bryson Morebodi, holds a different view: “We have neither the capacity nor the expertise for fencing and therefore cannot have been assigned such a task,” he says.
Morebodi explained that the department of Surveys and Mapping only acts as technical advisors on the position of the border line.
There is a history to this confusion. In 1963, Botswana and South Africa entered into an agreement. Section 5 of the agreement provides that South Africa would erect and maintain the fence and then pass on half of the costs to Botswana.
A special vote was thus established under the then Department of surveys and Lands from which Botswana would pay its contribution for the maintenance of the fence.
In 1999 an inspection team from South Africa and Botswana, comprising government surveyors came up with a joint report that the border fence from Sikwane to Pioneer Border post had rusted and needed to be replaced. The team further noted that the intersection at the pipeline from Marico Dam with the boundary provided an open gate for stolen vehicles and other stolen goods to be smuggled in and out of Botswana.
Morebodi stops short of acknowledging that throughout the operation, his officers were at sea and out of their depth: “There was nothing we could do except point at the beacons and exact locus of the border line.” The result of the inspection exercise was that the Department of Surveys and Lands conveyed their concerns to the Office of the President that the vote which was established under the department to make disbursements to the South African government was misplaced.”
The government never replaced the border fence as per the recommendations of the joint task team, but the vote was ultimately disbanded three years ago.