The arrest of a drug trafficking suspect who entered SA through the Ramotswa Border Post brings to the fore the oldissue of porous borders between Botswana and South Africa

A reported R2.2 million worth of cocaine was recovered by South African law enforcement from a 45-year-old male suspect who had been travelling in a taxi from Botswana en route to Johannesburg at the Swartkopfontein border post on Sunday.

Upon being searched by SA officials, three bags of cocaine hidden in two backpacks were found. The suspect was immediately arrested and is due to appear before the courts this week.

Swartkopfontein is the South African side of Ramotswa Border Post that many native people on both sides routinely circumvent to travel between the two countries, especially between the village of Moshaneng that lies 40 kilometres inside South Africa from the frontier town of Ramotswa in Botswana, in a ‘custom’ that goes back to colonial times.


Maze of footpaths
It is known that there are informal agents who guide people from further afield through a maze of footpaths to ford the usually dry Ngotwane River to cross in and out of either country for a fee.

Although the Botswana Police Service (BPS) says they have not been made aware of the arrest, the matter is understood to have revived a long-standing dispute between the local and SA law enforcement regarding drug trafficking.

Law enforcement sources say for years, the two countries have been at odds with each other as a result of the high prevalence of drug smuggling cases at their different border posts.

It is also said that similar concerns have been raised by Namibian authorities following numerous drug busts. According to sources, most organised crime syndicates have managed to easily smuggle their drugs in and out of the country without being caught.


In fact, Botswana is now seen by most criminals as a “perfect transit” to move their drugs to other countries. This publication has established that the Namibian law enforcement expressed their grievances with Botswana after 13 Namibians and one Congolese male were arrested at the Trans-Kalahari Border Post and drugs ranging from cannabis, crack cocaine, and mandrax worth N$11.9 million were confiscated.

The truck they had been driving was reported to have been from South Africa via Botswana. This incident happened in April this year. Sources also say one of the reasons drug trafficking into Botswana is getting “out of hand” is the lack of proper systems at some border posts.


Faulty scanners
The Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) is responsible for monitoring the entry and departure of goods and preventing use of local ports of entry for illicit goods, including drugs. They work with the army, intelligence and security organs and the police in their operations, with the narcotics and drugs division of the police focusing on illicit drugs.

But it is the lack of systems such as scanners at some border posts that makes such operations more complicated. Botswana has only two scanners, both of which were purchased by BURS in 2014. One is placed at Tlokweng border post and the other at the GABCON warehouse in Gaborone.

However, some technical flaws have also been reported on the scanners. “Even sniffer dogs used in tracing drugs are not permanently resident at the ports of entry but are only deployed on assignment when the need arises,” said a source.

Upon being contacted, BPS spokesman Assistant Commissioner Dipheko Motube said they did not have any authority to comment on arrests occurring beyond the country’s borders.*Additional reporting by LETLHOGILE MPUANG