Five million travellers entered or left South Africa during festive season, mainly using OR Tambo airport followed by Lebombo border

A man in green uniform

Commissioner of the Border Management Authority, Dr Michael Masiapato. Picture: Supplied/BMA

Published Jan 28, 2024


More than five million people travelled into, and out of South Africa during the 2023/24 festive season, the Border Management Authority (BMA) announced on Sunday.

At a media briefing in Pretoria on Sunday, commissioner of the Border Management Authority, Dr Mike Masiapato said the 5 096 288 travellers legitimately entered or left South Africa, and the majority of travellers used the OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng.

“Let’s start on immigration matters, as the BMA we managed to facilitate the legitimate movement of about 5,096,288 travellers across our 71 ports of entry between 6 Dec 2023 to 18 Jan 2024. This number represent an increase of one million travellers compared to the 2022/2023 number of four million travellers,” he said.

However, the 5,096,288 figure is one million less to the pre-Covid average number of about 6 million travellers which would be experienced over the festive seasons.

More than five million people travelled across South Africa’s 71 ports of entry between 6 Dec 2023 to 18 Jan 2024. File Picture: Timothy Bernard/Independent Media

“In facilitating the movement of these travellers were processed over 216 594 private vehicles; 21,502 minibus taxis; 6,443 buses and 55,765 trucks through our movement control system. Further, we processed over 13,050 aircraft through our international airports and about 709 vessels across at our seaports,” said Masiapato.

In addition, about 407 vessels were processed for crew changes through the off-port limit mechanism - which means crew changes without a vessel docking at a port, in the maritime environment.

More than five million people travelled across South Africa’s 71 ports of entry between 6 Dec 2023 to 18 Jan 2024. File Picture:Doctor Ngcobo

“In this festive period, OR Tambo International Airport facilitated the majority of travellers at about 993,759, followed by Lebombo land port of entry to Mozambique at 755,066, followed by ⁠Beitbridge land port of entry to Zimbabwe at 745,563 travellers,” said Masiapato.

“Compared to the 2022/2023 festive period, OR Tambo International Airport registered an increase of 22 percent in traveller volume, Lebombo registered a 24 percent increase, while Beitbridge registered a 25 percent increase.”

Masiapato highlighted that while the primary role of the BMA is to facilitate the legitimate movement of people, the agency also has to deal with individuals who attempt to illegitimately move through South Africa’s ports of entry and the border law enforcement areas.

More than five million people travelled across South Africa’s 71 ports of entry between 6 Dec 2023 to 18 Jan 2024. File Picture

“As such, in this festive period we were able to detect about 15,924 individuals who were attempting to enter into South Africa without requisite documentation through our ports and the vulnerable segments of the borderline. In this instance, after intercepting them, we took their fingerprints, declared them undesirable and banned them from re-entering South African for a period of five years and keep the record in the Biometric Movement Control System and got them deported,” he said.

“The majority of these individuals were intercepted at and around Lebombo land port of entry at 6,808 followed by Beitbridge land port of entry at 1,891. Further, about 6,455 travellers were denied entry into South Africa for being undesirable, these include individuals who committed crimes in other countries and appear in the INTERPOL red list. In addition, about 4,626 travellers were refused entry for being inadmissible.”

These include individuals with invalid passports, fraudulent visas or just failed to produce valid yellow fever certificates while travelling from yellow fever endemic countries.

“Therefore, in the 43 days of this festive period, when adding the numbers of undocumented (15,924), the undesirables (6,455) and those that were inadmissibles (4 626), it is a total of 27,005 individuals who were deported while attempting to enter South Africa illegally. During this period, we observed an increased detection rate of the undesirables and this is due to increased utilisation of the Biometric Movement Control Systems (BMCS) after the Department of Home Affairs increased its roll out across the ports of entry,” said Masiapato.

More than five million people travelled across South Africa’s 71 ports of entry between 6 Dec 2023 to 18 Jan 2024. File Picture: Rawpixel

As a contemporary movement control system, the BMCS allows officials to capture the biometric data of travellers.

“Despite these interceptions, as the Border Management Authority, we remain concerned about some conveyancers, meaning public transporters who continue to consciously transport illegal migrants across our ports of entry and border law enforcement areas. During this period, we imposed about 98 administrative fines to various conveyancers especially bus companies to the value of R3,540,000 for transporting illegal migrants at the cost of R15,000 per person as per section 50 (3) of the Immigration Act of 2002,” said Masiapato.

At the same time, the authorities were able to collect almost R10 million in outstanding fines from about 25 bus companies.

“Further, we also held a meeting with about 30 bus companies which transport people in and out of South Africa and implored them to stop transporting illegal migrants into South Africa. In this regard, they have committed to ensure that valid passports would be required from all travellers when procuring cross border tickets and for entering into the bus on travel day,” said Masiapato.

The BMA also engaged the leadership of Cross Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA) and agreed that bus companies should comply with the conditions of their cross-border permits, otherwise the permits would be withdrawn.

“In this regard, we would like to call upon all law-abiding conveyancers (transport operators) to partner with the officials of BMA and expose those perennial law breakers. As the BMA, we would like to commend the sterling work of the law enforcement authorities in the neighboring countries and other parts of the continent who continue to intercept, arrest and deport illegal migrants in their territories destined for South Africa,” said Masiapato.

Regarding general law enforcement matters, and working with other law enforcement authorities, Masiapato said the border guards were able to arrest about 246 “criminal elements” and confiscated about four tube boats which were used by facilitators to aid illegal migrants from crossing rivers into South Africa.

“In addition, various types of illicit drugs were confiscated that include 1.4 kilogrammes of crystal meth, commonly known as tik; 3,5 kilogrammes of dagga; four grammes of heroin; 24 mandrax tablets; and 10 tablets of dapoxetine.

“The border guards also participated in over 451 roadblocks which were conducted at the requisite corridors within the 10-kilometre radius from the ports of entry.

A further 4 638 foot and vehicle patrols were conducted across all modalities in both ports of entry and the vulnerable segments of the borderline.

More than five million people travelled across South Africa’s 71 ports of entry between 6 Dec 2023 to 18 Jan 2024. File Picture: SAPS

On the protection of South Africa from agricultural and environmental bio-security threat, Masiapato said the BMA managed to intercept and seize a number of unauthorised consignments of crayfish, canned meat products, infested tinned gammon ham, wheat beer, hazelnut paste, hatching poultry eggs, packs of water and various other plants and animals such as canines.

“In this regard, we would like to commend the majority of travellers for headed our call to avoid bringing alien invasive species as well as foreign pests associated with plants, animal products and other regulated goods into South Africa. In this regard, it should be noted that the importation of plants and or animals and or their respective products is highly regulated and requires the requisite sanitary and phytosanitary certifications by the relevant government departments for presentation at the ports of entry,” he said.

On port health matters, Masiapato said health specialists screened about 1,497,480 travellers across South Africa’s ports of entry for various infectious and or communicable diseases.

“As already indicated above, amongst the inadmissibles, 418 of them were travellers without valid yellow fever certificates as a requirement for travellers from yellow fever endemic countries. In this festive period, our health specialists attended to 361 patients with varied medical emergencies across our 71 ports of entry.

“Following the outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe, Malawi and some parts of Zambia, the BMA port health team intensified its screening activities at the Beitbridge border post. As such, a case of cholera was detected at Beitbridge and was handed over to the Limpopo health authorities for further examination and treatment,” said Masiapato.

Cholera has been detected in Limpopo province, on people who recently travelled to neighbouring Zimbabwe. File Picture

Further, a total of 2,394 persons were cleared and granted a clean bill of health in various vessels in South Africa’s maritime environment.

“Therefore, in order to protect South Africa from any kind of microbiological, chemical, communicable and or infectious diseases, including any kind of physical environmental hazards, all returning travellers presenting signs of illness or symptoms should visit their nearest health facilities or their private doctors for consultation with the intention to fully disclose their travel history,” said Masiapato.

Despite the agency’s limited resources, Masiapato took the opportunity to salute South Africa’s immigration officials, health specialists, including the environmental and agricultural bio-security experts “for the great work” done during this past festive season.

“We would also like to thank our team of border guards and coastal guards who continue to do their best in the mist of challenges and complexities associated with border law enforcement work. As we continue to do this work, we do believe that South Africa would rally behind us and assist us to improve our capacity and enrol the requisite technologies required for effective border management,” said Masiapato.