Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - The Border Management Authority bill is meant to improve the management of South Africa's borders and is not xenophobic, Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize said on Monday. 

''People have been asking why are we seemingly closing the [border] gates through this bill ... are we being xenophobic when [former president Nelson] Mandela said open the border gates?'' Mkhize asked delegates at a business breakfast briefing on the sidelines of the ANC policy conference. 

''But all we are saying is that we are creating a situation where the defence, police, SARS are able to work together at borders, and with the ministry of home affairs at the helm of this processes because it is the department's main function to control movement at borders.'' 

The widely criticised bill seeks to centralise border control through the establishment of the BMA, which would consist of home affairs and defence departments, SA Revenue Services (SARS) and the SA Police Service (SAPS). 

The SA government says illegal immigration as a result of porous borders needs urgent attention because it poses danger to internal security, including exposure to terrorism. The bill was passed in Parliament last month and referred to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). 

The ANC failed to pass the bill in March due to a lack of quorum. The BMA seen as a way by government to nip illegal migration in the bud, has, however been criticised for its costly price tag.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) argues that the BMA is not affordable, and that it would shift SARS revenue collection function at borders to home affairs. 

''What is required is a more effective use of our current resources, a reduction in unnecessary spending in the department and an increased investment in Immigration affairs,'' DA MP Hannif Hoosen told Parliament in March. 

''The estimated cost of the BMA is almost R22 billion, something that we cannot afford at this time in our country. Let’s rather focus on fixing our fence.'' 

Mkhize said more inputs on border control were expected from the ANC policy conference. 

''As government we see the bill as a tool to strengthen the border control function. The attempt here is to align ourselves with world's best policies on orderly and legal entry into the country ... porous borders with people jumping fences and swimming through to get here is a problem in this country, and it has been chaotic on the ground,'' she said.