The Border Management Authority bill is meant to improve the management of South Africa’s borders and is not xenophobic, Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize said.

“People have been asking why are we seemingly closing the (border) gates through this bill, are we being xenophobic when (former president Nelson) Mandela said open the border gates?” Mkhize asked delegates at a business breakfast briefing on the sidelines of the ANC policy conference this week.

“But all we are saying is that we are creating a situation where the Defence, police and Sars are able to work together at borders and with the Ministry of Home Affairs at the helm of this process because it is the department’s main function to control movement at borders.”

The widely criticised bill seeks to centralise border control through the establishment of the BMA, which would consist of the Home Affairs and Defence departments, tax authority Sars and the SAPS.

The South African government said illegal immigration as a result of porous borders needs urgent attention because it poses danger to internal security, including possible terrorism.

The bill was passed in Parliament last month and was referred to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

The ANC failed to pass the bill in March due to a lack of quorum.

The BMA is considered by the government as a way to nip illegal migration in the bud, but has, however, been criticised for its high price tag.

Opposition party DA argues the BMA is not affordable and that it would shift Sars revenue collection function at borders to Home Affairs.

”What is required is a more effective use of our current resources, a reduction in unnecessary spending in the department and an increased investment in immigration affairs,” DA MP Mohammed Hannif Hoosen told Parliament in March.

“The estimated cost of the BMA is almost R22 billion, something that we cannot afford at this time in our country.

”Let’s rather focus on fixing our fence.”

Mkhize said more inputs on border control were expected from the ANC policy conference.

”As government we see the bill as a tool to strengthen the border control function.

“The attempt here is to align ourselves with the world’s best policies on orderly and legal entry into the country. Porous borders with people jumping fences and swimming through to get here is a problem in this country and it has been chaotic on the ground,” she said. - African News Agency (ANA)