For years rumours have been circulating about South Africa being the perfect hideaway for well-known (and the not so well-known) terrorists of Al-Qaeda.
In 2008, Hilary Clinton criticised South Africa that its lax regulations had allowed for Al-Shabaab and the like to recruit young Somali-South Africans.
In 2011, word got out that a Hamas terrorist cell had actually opened “offices” in Cape-Town.
At the beginning of 2013, News24 and The Daily Maverick reported news of alleged Al-Qaeda training facilities that had been operating in a former police training base in the Klein Karoo, in Vlakplaas and another unknown area in the Eastern Cape.
This report resulted in mounting pressure from both the USA and Britain for the South African government to get a handle on the situation and act as “quickly as possible.”
However the government did not heed their warning and continued to allow these dangerous terrorist cells to go on with their training routines.
It was only a few days ago when the news emerged that Samantha Lewthwaite, (otherwise dubbed the ‘White Widow’,) who is wanted in connection with the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Kenya and has been using and travelling on a South African passport, that the government finally broke their silence.
Lewthwaite, whose husband had been one of the notorious 7/7 bombers, was living in South Africa under the name Natalie Faye Webb. She had been working as an “IT specialist” at a Halaal pie factory in Lenasia. She had been earning a salary of R25 000 a month and was living in Bromhof. She had bank accounts and unpaid debts that ran into thousands of Rands.
Whilst living in South Africa, Lewthwaite had also been a part of suspicious activities which included watching and photographing a number of Foreign Embassies in Pretoria. These strange activities have only now been dubbed suspicious when this had been going on for months.
Only after all these details had emerged did the Minister of Home Affairs, Naledi Pandor, come out and say that she together with the SA intelligence unit are investigating how Lewthwaite managed to slip through undetected.
The South African border control in South Africa is somewhat similar to that of Kenya and Somalia. After Thabo Mbeki took over as President, he allowed for border regulations and control to lax completely. Like Kenya’s border with Somalia, there is no real border between certain parts of South Africa and its neighbours Mozambique and Zimbabwe because of the small but dense area of the Kruger Park. This has allowed a huge amount of illegal immigrants into South Africa and it is unknown if these terrorist cells are among those numbers.
This entire debacle has generated many worrisome questions; does the government and home affairs office actually have a screening process? Do they really look at who comes in and out of the country? How many more terrorists have just “slipped through” into South Africa undetected?
Furthermore, has its lax regulations and border control allowed for dangerous Al-Qaeda terrorists to enter, live and train in South Africa? And could these terrorists been the same ones that perpetrated the horrific Kenyan Mall attack?
The most troubling question of all; will we see a repeat of the Westgate Mall Attack on South African soil?
It is in the interest of both the government and its people to take the threat of the Al-Qaeda operatives like Samantha Lewthwaite seriously and start delving into who is being allowed into the country and under what grounds. Border security must not be taken lightly and the South African intelligence unit must work together with Interpol and the like if they are to crack-down and rid this country of the terrorist threat – a threat that also affects it citizens.
One thing is for certain; terrorist cells that have successfully entered into South Africa are assuredly living the good life undetected as a result of the lax laws in this country that have allowed them to flourish.
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