HOME Affairs Minister, Tsukutlane Au, says there is need to revise the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) or come up with a totally different arrangement because the current document which was “modelled on a similar one for Zimbabweans does not address the special circumstances of Basotho nationals”.
He said the government would negotiate with their South African counterparts for a special arrangement akin to that of Italy and the Vatican where citizens of the former did not need passports to work or visit the latter country.
Mr Au also pleaded with the South African government not to deport or arrest Basotho nationals who failed to regularise their stay despite being given an opportunity to do so by applying for the LSP which would enable them to legally reside, work and study in the neighbouring country.
Mr Au said this in a recent exclusive interview with the Sunday Express.
His comments come in the wake of the recent expiry of the moratorium on deportations of Basotho who either failed to apply for the LSP or had their applications turned down.
The South African government has previously stated that deportations of illegal immigrants would kick in after 31 December 2017.
On Thursday, the Sunday Express’ sister publication, the Lesotho Times reported that the Lesotho government is making frantic efforts to engage South Africa to try and avert a potential crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Basotho face arrests, deportations and joblessness after they failed to secure the LSP.
The four-year LSP was introduced in 2015 to enable qualifying Basotho to lawfully work, study or do business in South Africa.
The initial application process for the permit began in March 2016 and was due to end in June 2016. There have been three extensions since then, culminating in the final extension to 31 March 2017 for all applications.
A South African Home Affairs report issued in October 2017 said that 194 941 LSP applications were received out of an estimated 400 000 Basotho believed to be in South Africa.
“Out of these, about 90,225 were approved, 3 582 rejected,” the report stated.
“Of the adjudicated cases 6 735 applications were still awaiting collection at the VFS following notification via sms advising applicants of the status of their applications and readiness for collection which ought to be completed by 31 October 2017.”
Despite the expiry of the deadline for collection, at least 6700 Basotho had not collected their special permits which were ready by mid-2017 despite several appeals to them to do so.
Although 90 225 applications were approved, the figure is a drop in the ocean as it represents less than a quarter of the 400 000 Basotho estimated by the South African government to be living within its borders.
Even though most of those who applied succeeded in getting the LSP, more than 300 000 Basotho living in South Africa seem not to have bothered to apply and now risk being arrested and deported from that country after a moratorium of such deportations expired on 31 December 2017.
South Africa’s then Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba had already vowed that his government would enforce deportations upon the expiry of the moratorium as Africa’s second largest and most sophisticated economy seeks to stem off the tide of illegal immigration into its borders.
A similar permit was granted to hordes of Zimbabweans who fled political and economic turmoil in their country to South Africa. Those Zimbabweans who did not apply for the permit to regularise their stay or failed to qualify were deported once the process was over.
However, in a recent interview with the Sunday Express, Mr Au, said the LSP which was crafted from the template of the Zimbabwe Special Permit did not take into consideration the special circumstances of Lesotho and South Africa’s geographical, historical and socio-economic links which were considerably different from those of the Zimbabweans and other nationalities.
He said unlike Zimbabwe, Lesotho had unique challenges stemming from the fact that it was completely surrounded by South Africa, adding that in addition to the strong socio-economic and cultural links between the two countries, Lesotho’s geographical location within South Africa meant that Basotho could only access the rest of the world through South Africa.
“I have told my South African counterpart that I don’t like the LSP as it is a four year project which was intended for Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe’s issues are different from those of Lesotho,” Mr Au said.
“The Zimbabweans have an option of movement to other countries (where they can engage in different economic activities) unlike us Basotho who are totally surrounded by South Africa and can’t go anywhere without going via South Africa.
Therefore there is need for a special long term or permanent arrangement that can be beneficial to our people.
The four year will not do us any good and they should do away with the LSP,” he said, adding the two countries should study the arrangement between the Vatican and Italy to learn how they can develop an arrangement which will be mutually beneficial to both countries.
The Vatican is a city state within Rome, Italy which was established in terms of the 1929 between the 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Italian government then led by Benito Mussolini. There are no passport controls for visitors entering Vatican City from the surrounding Italian territory.
“We really need an insightful study into the Vatican and Italy agreement and see if there isn’t anything that we can copy from their agreement and implement.
“However, our South African counterparts have rather suggested that we study the agreement between Mexico and America. I am yet to learn about this agreement
“It is not going to be easy to convince South Africa into making a special arrangement for Basotho but we are going to do all in our powers to succeed.
As we await the urgent meeting with South Africa (which is due next month), I only ask that Basotho who do not have LSPs should be spared deportations until the matter is resolved.”
He also said their South African counterparts had heeded their request to assist them to implement the biometric system which started in December 2017 “in a more orderly manner” to reduce the congestion at the ports of entry.
The biometric system has been blamed for delaying travellers resulting in long queues such as those that have been witnessed at the Maseru Border Gate since December 2017.