Maputo — The General Commander of the Mozambican Police, Bernadino Rafael, announced on Wednesday that he has removed the entire command of the First Regiment of the Frontier Police, stationed at Namaacha, on the border between Mozambique and Eswatini.
He added that all members of the frontier police stationed a few kilometres away at Macuacua are facing disciplinary proceedings.
These moves follow an exposure by the independent television station STV of a racket whereby the frontier police at Macuacua allowed Mozambicans to cross the border into South Africa illegally, in exchange for a bribe of 200 South African rands (about 13 US dollars) per illegal immigrant.
Speaking to STV in Namaacha on Wednesday morning, Rafael said a Commission of Inquiry had looked into the claims made in the STV investigation and found them to be true. He thanked STV for its work in exposing the scandal.
Working under cover, STV reporters accompanied the migrants as they made their way to South Africa via Namaacha. That journey begins at the Junta bus terminal in Maputo, where Mozambicans queue up to catch minibuses that will take them to Namaacha. Many of them do not have passports or any other documents normally demanded at a border post. Some of the migrants told STV they had been making these illegal crossings for 15 years.
Once the would-be migrants reach the Namaacha terminal, they find private transporters who will take them towards the South African border. They do not cross into Eswatini – instead they take a turning to the right which leads to Macuacua. There is no official border post at Macuacua.
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A man and his nephew who agreed to speak to STV said “we’re using this route because we were told we can get through easily. We don’t have passports, but we have money to pay the police”. The two men came from Chibuto, in Gaza province, and said they knew many other people in Gaza who had used the Namaacha-Macuacua route to enter South Africa.
As they approached Macuacua, the journalists were spotted by local residents who want to keep the business secret, and who informed the police. The police stopped the STV crew from reaching the border at Macuacar. “Brother, go home, or we will arrest you”, said one of the police.
“That would be a violation of the Constitution”, STV retorted.
“Then we’ll violate it, but we’ll arrest you”, said the frontier police officer, identified as the head of the local police brigade. “We don’t have any problems, we’ll justify it later”.
One of the drivers who takes the illegal migrants to Macuacua told STV “the scheme is very well designed. When you reach Macuacua, you don’t need to speak with the police officers. They don’t complicate matters for anyone”.
But they charge, and in South African rands, not in Mozambican meticais. Crossing this illegal border costs 200 rands – and this transporter added that, once the migrant is across, he gives the driver 100 rands “by way of reward”.
This driver thought the illegal migration business was “very profitable”. A 15 seater minibus could make at least three trips a day from Namaacha to Macuacua. “Charging 100 meticais each for the fare and 100 rands on top of that – a lot of money is at stake”, he said.