Home affairs ramps up biometrics-driven movement system

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 09 May 2023

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is looking to increase coverage of its Biometric Movement Control System (BMCS) across all ports of entry during the 2023/24 financial year.

This, up from the 34 ports of entry the system currently covers, revealed Thulani Mavuso, deputy director-general for institutional planning and support at the DHA.

The department today briefed Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on progress in regards to the implementation of the system.

Mavuso said the BMCS deployment included the creation of user profiles, training of users and change management. Meanwhile, in other ports, the department had to upgrade the network capacity and backup power.

“We envisage 100% deployment of BMCS to 72 ports by 31 March 2024,” said Mavuso. “In the 2023/24 financial year, the system will be rolled out in the remaining 38 ports of entry.

“There are some ports where we are trying to install new infrastructure; for example, Mossel Bay and Port of Ngqura. In the other areas, we will be upgrading what we already have on the ground.”

He noted the department wants to finalise the upgrades in the first two quarters of the 2023/24 financial year.

The project was initiated to replace the enhanced Movement Control System (eMCS) by capturing the biometrics of travellers coming into the country, explained Mavuso.

It will replace the eMCS, which has reached its end of life. The eMCS was implemented just before the World Cup in 2010, with enhancements in 2013, he told MPs.

The BMCS aims to enable the capturing of fingerprint and facial biometric data for all travellers who enter and exit SA. It also serves to trace the movement of travellers in the country, as well as identify both citizens and foreign nationals to improve national security.

According to the DHA, development of the system was completed in 2021. A pilot project was then implemented at the four airports: OR Tambo International Airport, Cape Town International Airport, King Shaka International Airport and Lanseria.

Commenting on some of the challenges the department has encountered with the implementation of BMCS, Mavuso listed inadequate networking bandwidth at some of the ports, especially in the previous (2022/23) financial year.

“We have had some delays with some of the ports that needed to be upgraded. For example, in Kosi Bay there were issues, so we ended up getting one of the telcos to help install connectivity there.”

He also noted the negative impact of load-shedding on the rollout of the project in some areas due to lack of backup power.

“We are working with the Border Management Authority and immigration services to ensure we install alternative power generation in all ports of entry.”

Other challenges include change management and insufficient capacity of staff at some of the ports, he concluded.