Valencia Talane

The Free State Hawks and the South African Police Service (SAPS) are Corruption Watch’s joint heroes of the week. On Tuesday, the crime fighters arrested nine police officers and six Home Affairs officials stationed at the Caledonspoort border post with Lesotho for corruption.

The group is believed to have allowed undocumented travellers from the mountain kingdom through the border, in return for bribes of about R150 from each person – in some instances enriching themselves to the tune of R200 000 a day.

Provincial Hawks head Senaba Mositi said the arrests were part of the police’s efforts to stop corruption in the province. The regional spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, Phaladi Shuping, told Corruption Watch that the 15 appeared in the Fouriesburg Magistrates Court on Wednesday, but because they did not have legal representation, the case was postponed to Thursday.

“Although the accused had legal representation on Thursday, the case was further postponed to 20 May to give their counsel enough time to consult with them,” he added.

Bhutana Khompela, the MEC for police, roads and transport, was supportive of the efforts of his officers to “clean the rot and cancer of corruption within the SAPS”. “People accuse the government of keeping porous border posts when in actual fact officers are deployed there with trust,” said Khompela. “The country is facing serious challenges regarding cross-border crime such as trafficking of humans, hard drugs and other contraband stuff like cigarettes and motor vehicles, and stock theft.”

Corruption Watch reports

Corruption Watch has received a number of reports about border guards from the public with allegations ranging from bribes changing hands between officials and travellers, to officials who flout regulations, abuse their power and exploit members of the public. A whistle-blower reported an incident of alleged abuse of power by a senior immigration officer at the Grobler’s Bridge border post with Botswana in Limpopo. Travellers into South Africa were forced to pay bribes to the individual in fear of their passports being rejected.

Some of the people waiting in a queue, including the whistle-blower, were allegedly taken to a section of the office by another official, where they stood conveniently close to a desk onto which they could deposit the bribe when instructed to do so.

Another whistle-blower reported officials’ conduct at South Africa’s busiest post, Beit Bridge, also in Limpopo but on the border with Zimbabwe. The whistle-blower alleged that several of the officials at the post made large sums of money from bribes paid regularly by freight truckers.

According to the Limpopo Roads and Transport Department, the two posts are the only ones that offer freight transportation facilities, and the South African National Roads Agency Limited cites a figure of 1 200 trucks a day travelling between Musina and Zimbabwe.

In another report to Corruption Watch, a whistle-blower alleged company fraud enabled by border post officials. A company contracted to one of the country’s largest food manufacturing brands would label its goods as being for export, only to sell them locally, while obtaining border control documentation fraudulently.

South Africa has more than 60 border posts shared mainly with Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Services at the posts range from security to immigration and customs and excise. Facilities are run through a collaboration between the Home Affairs Department, the South African Revenue Services and the SAPS.

In the wake of the Free State incident, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has cautioned members of the public who pay bribes to officials to refrain from doing so. He also urged SAPS officials to arrest without hesitation any person who tried to bribe them.

“We have emphasised to SAPS management to intensify the war on corruption,” said Mthethwa. “We shall ensure that we clean [up] the SAPS and further believe that this arrest will send a message that tsotsi-cops have no place within the SAPS.”

Crime doesn’t pay – and certainly not for police officers and Home Affairs officials manning South Africa’s Caledonspoort border post with Lesotho. The Free State Hawks and the SAPS are our heroes this week for arresting 15 officials for demanding bribes.
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