South Africa's first maritime port of entry control centre represents a milestone in the country's journey to secure, modernise and control its borders, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said at the opening of the centre at Cowrie Port in Cape Town harbour on Friday.
The centre puts all the government departments and agencies involved in immigration and border control under one roof. These include the departments of home affairs, health, agriculture and fisheries, the SA Police Service (border police and crime intelligence), and the SA Revenue Service (customs).
The state-of-the-art centre would not only improve security and immigration issues, but would also serve to enhance trade and South Africa's status as a logistical gateway to Africa, Gordhan said.
The rationale behind the centre was in line with the National Development Plan, the minister said. Among other things, the NDP aims to stimulate growth by lowering the cost of doing business in South Africa, improving the country's competitiveness and exports, and linking local products with other emerging markets.
Gordhan said the fast-growing markets of Africa represented important new markets, and the NDP was committed to increasing South Africa's trade with its regional neighbours from 15% to 30%.
Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, also speaking at Friday's opening, said the centre had been designed "to accommodate in one spot not only customs, excise and immigration, but also health, safety and intelligence.
"Ports are complex borders to manage. Cowrie Place will provide the space and facilities to manage passengers and cargoes more efficiently than before."
Pandor said the government hoped to establish a border management agency by the end of 2016, taking advantage of the lessons learnt from Cowrie Place.
A flagship feature of Cowrie Place is the co-ordination monitoring centre, where the data and information will be fed, assimilated and made available to all government department and agencies involved in the maritime border management.
"For the bona fide tourist or member of the trade community, this will mean better service," Gordhan said. "For those who intend to challenge the laws of our country, be warned, as we intend to raise the bar of compliance by an order of magnitude."
Cape Town's port is oldest in South Africa, but despite changes to its maritime culture brought by air travel and containerisation, it is still an important point of entry.
The port processes more than 870 000 containers as well as nearly 730 000 tons of dry bulk per annum, Pandor said.
A total of 6 173 commercial vessels and 55 passenger vessels entered and/or left the port in 2013, while more than 62 000 people entered and/or departed from Cape Town harbour.
Pandor said E-berth at the harbour would be developed into a fully fledged passenger liner terminal to complement Cowrie Place.