Maputo — The Mozambican Frontier Police on Friday denied involvement in the illegal immigration of Mozambicans into South Africa, a denial that came a few hours after the independent television station STV had broadcast a detailed report on the racket.
"This isn't true", the Head of Operations of the Frontier Police, Fernando Bombola, told STV. "The police are making an effort not to allow these immigration schemes to happen. We are aware of allegations about these facilitations in the media. But I guarantee there is no such facilitation".
However, the STV investigation was extremely detailed, with testimony from the illegal migrants themselves, and from the drivers of the vehicles that take them to the border.
There are two stages to this immigration. First the would-be migrants catch minibuses from Maputo to Namaacha on the border with Eswatini. 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 in Namaacha, they find drivers who will take them towards the South African border. They do not cross into Eswatini - instead they take a turning which leads to Macuacua, a locality which borders on Mbuzine in South Africa. There is no official border post at Macuacua.
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".
Crossing the border involves paying the police a bribe of 200 South African rands (about 13 US dollars). The STV crew could not go as far as the South African border at Macuacua, because they were stopped by the police, who threatened to arrest them.
"Brother, go home, or we will arrest you", said the head of the local policed brigade.
"That would be a violation of the Constitution", STV retorted.
"Then we'll violate it, but we'll arrest you", said the officer. "We don't have any problems, we'll justify it later". Unfortunately for Bombola, STV has a recording of this discussion.
It seems hardly coincidental that, shortly after this investigation was broadcast on the Friday lunchtime news, STV was invited back to the border to witness the supposed police crackdown on illegal immigration into South Africa.
The police displayed 120 people to STV, including both people trying to enter South Africa, and some of their drivers. Some of them told STV the police had picked them up, not at Macuacua, but in Namaacha town, and they denied intending to enter South Africa illegally. Some of them said they had passports, which means they could cross legally into Eswatini, and make their way from there into South Africa.
Others, however, admitted they intended to cross the border illegally, and said they needed their jobs in South Africa in order to sustain their families. "How can they do this to us?", asked stonemason Luis Muthombene. "We are struggling to support our families. I have a contract in South Africa and I run the risk of losing my job".
But somebody with a genuine job in South Africa, a valid passport, and a negative Covid-19 test, should have no difficulty in crossing the border legally.
Those rounded up by the police were not formally arrested. The police took them to the main road outside Namaacha, and told them to go back to their home districts.