By Ebi Kesiena
In a successful operation, the South Africa Border Management Authority (BMA) thwarted an attempt to traffic 443 unaccompanied children into the country from Zimbabwe.
The children are being returned to Zimbabwe, the BMA said during a media briefing on Sunday.
“A sting operation was conducted by the border guards, the home affairs anti-corruption team as well as members of the South African Police Service at the Beitbridge border post,” BMA commissioner Michael Masiapato said.
“They were able to stop and search about 42 buses trying to enter the republic and out of that we found 443 children under the age of eight that were in those buses without any parent or any guardian. Clearly, they were being trafficked into South Africa.”
He said the children were denied entry “and we activated the Zimbabwean officials to process them back into Zimbabwe.”
Over a million Zimbabweans live and work in South Africa, and it is believed the children were going to join their parents for the Christmas holidays after schools closed on December 1.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress faces a tricky election next year and immigration is one of the key election issues.
President Cyril Ramaphosa set up the BMA in October in the hope of stemming a tidal wave of illegal migrants entering the country through the northern border with Zimbabwe, but many illegals still make it through by paying bribes to officials on both sides of the border.
However, Masiapato said 18 officials were currently facing disciplinary action for “facilitating” the entry of illegal immigrants into South Africa, adding that eight of those had been fired.
“We have adopted zero tolerance on corrupt tendencies among our own officials,” Masiapato said.