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Minister Aaron Motsoaledi: Lebombo Border Post operation

12 Nov 2021

Speaking Notes of Minister Aaron Motsoaledi at the Lebombo Border Post operation

Let me acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Minister, Mr Njabulo Nzuza. 
Head of the Counter Corruption Branch in the Department of Home Affairs, Adv Connie Moitse. 
Head of the Hawks in Mpumalanga, Major General Ntombizodwa Mokoena.
Senior managers present here. 

Our presence here today is a testimony of our determination to wage a relentless and ferocious war against corruption at Home Affairs.  

We want to assure you that there is going to be no space for rogue elements in the Department of Home Affairs.  

A short while ago, a multidisciplinary team of law enforcement officials led by the Hawks took down eight people who were not only in breach of immigrations laws of our country but practising absolute naked corruption and criminality.  

Six of these people are Home Affairs officials, one a policeman and another is a foreign national. 

The biggest pain for me is that the foreign national, a woman from Mozambique, who is an ordinary hawker, seems to have been the mastermind who was instructing officials employed by government, to do corruption and destroy the systems in their own country. 

Let me mention that we are aware that the public abhors corruption and would not want to see it happening in their country. Hence on every single week, we get tip offs from members of the public about acts of corruption conducted by some of our officials they interact with. I am sure that most get discouraged, they get an impression that nothing materialises from their tip offs. 

I am here today to assure them and all South Africans that a lot does happen behind the scenes but it takes a long time because we are dealing with rascals and a court system that demands proof beyond any reasonable doubt. 

Back in 2019, the Department received a lot of tip offs about wrong doing at this border from whistle-blowers who are obviously heroes and patriots. 

Based on the helpful information we received from the whistle-blowers, law enforcement officials were able to identify the culprits and monitor their activities. 

The officials who have been arrested today as a result of these tip offs, have been under surveillance by the joint team of the Hawks and the Home Affairs Counter Corruption team for a period of more or less 18 months. They are involved in an elaborate scam that is a root of lots of problems regarding immigration in our country.

In terms of SADC protocols on immigration, a citizen from a SADC country is not required to produce a visa when visiting a SADC member state. All they need to do is produce a valid passport to enter. The general rule is that they can only stay for a maximum period of 90 days after which they have to go back home. Failure to stick to this 90 days is that eventually when such a person finds it necessary to cross the border, they will be declared undesirable persons and their passports will be stamped such that they won’t be allowed back into South Africa for a period ranging up to five years. 

The scam that was being carried out by these officials here was to render this whole arrangement unworkable so that people can stay forever if not permanently.

This scam consists of collecting passports from people whose time in South Africa is about to expire, take them to the Mozambican lady who is the master and the runner of the scam, who has a network of officials that she works with here at the border. The lady, whose name we can’t disclose yet, for reasons I’ll mention later, will then get the officials to stamp the passport as if the owner of the passport has been through the border and back. 

This action has two consequences to the country; 

  • The passport owner can stay in South Africa for as many 90 day periods as possible as long as the passport keeps on being stamped as if they have left the country.
  • If a law enforcement officer in South Africa arrests a foreign national who has committed a crime, that person, if they are in this scam, can easily go to court and prove that they were out of the country at the time of the alleged crime. This renders law enforcement in our country completely paralysed.
     

Our operation to bring this to a halt, consisted of undercover agents from the Hawks who would bring in artificially designed passports, which are not real, to the officials who have been identified by crime intelligence as part of this network. 

The officials will then stamp them and get money from the agent, not aware that they are taking money from a police officer. Some of these officials allegedly took as little as R300 to allow people to enter the country without proper documents.  

This is very painful for me to swallow, having to learn that one’s country can be sold for as little as R300. What a shame. To me, this is not just crime or corruption, but it is an absolute disgrace and an act of treason against one’s country.  

Last night, the woman-mastermind from Mozambique was phoned by one of our undercover agents who appealed to her to come and help him cross the border because his passport has expired. She came into South Africa running to execute the request and she was immediately nabbed by the police. She is in jail as we speak. We can’t disclose her name because she has not yet appeared in court. 

Before you start thinking that all Home Affairs officials are rogue, let me quickly assure you that a lot of upstanding and exemplary officials did not take money from anyone. Instead, they did what the immigration laws call on them to do by denying entry to people who were not carrying legitimate travel documents. We salute these officials, even if they were doing their job. 

What we had here were law enforcement officers who were breaking the very laws they were entrusted to enforce. That is beyond criminal. 

So the message we are sending today is that; Respect South Africa, Respect Home Affairs, Respect Immigration Laws. 

If you are conducting your illegal operation at the Department of Home Affairs, law enforcement is coming for you. You are going to face the full might of the law. 

At this point, allow me to introduce the Dr Mike Masiapato who is the Commissioner of the Border Management Authority (BMA). He is here with Deputy Commissioner for Operations Major General David Chilembe and Deputy Commissioner for Corporate Affairs, Ms Jane Thupana. Commissioner Masiapato and Deputy Commissioner Chilembe started their work at the beginning of this month. Today is Deputy Commissioner Thupana’s first day at work. 

The commissioners’ sole preoccupation is security of our border. The work to root out corruption at the border is going to be intensified through the incremental rollout of the BMA, working with other law enforcement agencies. 

Today is one example of the work we are doing to root out corruption.  

Just three days ago, on Tuesday, three Home Affairs officials in Ermelo were arrested for allegedly demanding money from foreign nationals who run business in that town. They are currently out on R2 500 bail and are due back in court on 10 December 2021. 

These officials are Khulekani Zulu and Mavis Mthethwa who are immigration officers and Pretty Ngomane who is an Assistant Director. 

Last month, the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Cape Town convicted former Home Affairs official, Joseph Lebitsa, on eight counts of corruption. He is now serving eight years direct imprisonment. 

Lebitsa was arrested in May 2019 together with eight foreign nationals in a planned joint operation between the Counter Corruption Branch and the SA Police Service in the Atlantis Home Affairs office. The joint operation was arranged following information provided by a whistle-blower. 

Lebitsa and his accomplices were unlawfully linking photos of foreign nationals to existing identity numbers of South African citizens to illegally issue passports. Lebitsa and his accomplices were caught in the act and no passports were issued. 

Following the arrest, Lebitsa was taken through an internal Departmental disciplinary process, was found guilty and was subsequently dismissed. 

One of eight of Lebitsa’s accomplices has turned State witness. The trial for the rest of the accused is scheduled to resume on 09 December 2021 and 17 January 2022. 

Another former official, Mndeni Mnisi, was convicted at the Elukwatini Magistrate Court for corruption. He was sentenced to three years in prison without an option of a fine. 

In June 2018, Mnisi stamped a passport of an Eswatini national without her being present at the Oshoek Port of Entry. 

After his arrest, he was taken through an internal disciplinary process and dismissed after he was found guilty. 

He was appealing his dismissal at the Labour Court at the time of his sentencing. 

On 25 October 2021, Ms Sebolelo Malanda, a former official at Umzimkhulu DHA Office in KwaZulu-Natal was sentenced by the Durban Specialised Commercial Crimes Court to eight years. She was found guilty on three counts of fraud, three counts of corruption and one count of contravention of immigration and identification laws. She has started serving her sentence. 

Ms Malanda was found guilty of being involved in processing Smart ID Cards for three illegal foreign nationals under misrepresentation for a fee of R2 000 each. This crime and arrest took place in 2017. 

These Smart ID Cards were never issued because they were intercepted by the Counter Corruption Branch.  

Two of the foreign nationals and their facilitator were arrested. They pleaded guilty to the charges of fraud and corruption and were sentenced to five years suspended sentence. 

One foreign national is on the run.

Some of you may recall that during my Budget Vote speech last year I referred to a lady who was selling visas to Pakistani nationals in Namibia who did not even travel to the Embassy to apply. 

Ms Nkhangweleni Nevuvha was dismissed after being taken through a disciplinary process. 

The Hawks were about to arrest her when she unfortunately passed on last month.  

Let me reiterate that I am grateful to the whistle-blowers who have bravely chosen to partner with us as we clean Home Affairs. 

I encourage anyone who may have information about corruption or any other criminal activities to contact the SA Police Service or the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Department. 

People with information can contact the following;

National Anti-Corruption Hotline on 0800 701 701 and;Home Affairs Counter Corruption Unit on 012 406 4318. 

Thank you. 

Enquiries:
Siya Qoza, ‪082 898 1657 (spokesperson for the Minister of Home Affairs)

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