SA formally apologises over King’s ill-treatment

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…His Majesty receives cow as a symbol of South Africa’s “extreme embarrassment” over his ill-treatment by overzealous SA immigration officials

Pascalinah Kabi

SOUTH Africa’s Minister of International Affairs, Lindiwe Sisulu, on Friday presented King Letsie III with a cow as a symbol to express her government’s “extreme embarrassment” over the ill-treatment His Majesty suffered at the hands of her country’s overzealous immigration officials stationed at the Maseru border post.

The cow was presented at the Royal Palace in Maseru at a ceremony that was also attended by the South African High Commissioner, Sello Moloto, the Free State officials and Lesotho’s Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, Lebohang Hlaele.

Ms Sisulu and her delegation also met Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane to apologise.

The presentation of the cow preceded a closed meeting in which Ms Sisulu and her delegation apologised to His Majesty for the “harassment and embarrassment” inflicted upon him by South African immigration officials during His Majesty’s return trip from Durban.

The incident which occurred in February was only made public a fortnight ago by Ms Sisulu and Lesotho’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Lesego Makgothi.

Narrating His Majesty’s ordeal at the hands of the South African border police, Mr Makgothi said the King’s motorcade was stopped and searched early last month by the South African Police Service (SAPS) at the Maseru Border Gate despite standing protocol that this should never happen.  During the search, the SAPS officials demanded permits for guns and ammunition carried by the King’s bodyguards.

Mr Makgothi said the stop and search exercise was carried out despite the fact that a protocol officer assigned to His Majesty had applied and been granted clearance for the bodyguards’ guns and ammunition five hours before departure to Durban.

The Minister said His Majesty, the prime minister and his deputy are required to file for clearance two to four hours before departing Lesotho to avoid being stopped and searched by South African police.

He said His Majesty crossed into South Africa without any hassles, after the prior granting of the clearance, but all hell broke loose on his return.

“It (the incident) happened at the beginning of February when His Majesty went to Durban on private business and the protocol office followed the normal procedure of requesting clearance for the guns… The clearance was actually requested and granted five hours before departure.

“On his return, the King was stopped at the border gate for more than an hour when the South African police demanded permits for the guns ….When they (police officers) were informed that the clearances were issued before travelling to South Africa, the police who had already opened the boot of his car tried to search his clothes. That was when His Majesty’s bodyguards stood their ground and told them to never search his clothes,” Mr Makgothi said.

And on Friday, Ms Sisulu formally apologised and subsequently told the media that it was important for Lesotho and South Africa to work hard to maintain good relations between the two countries.

She also said that they were fully aware of the bad treatment inflicted on ordinary Basotho by South African immigration officers.

South African immigration officers have become notorious for leaving their work stations or simply delaying to attend to travellers, resulting in unnecessary long queues at the ports of entry.

“We came here to apologise to the King and the people of this country for the inconvenience they experienced at our border and in particular we were extremely embarrassed by the report we got about the treatment of the King at the border,” Ms Sisulu said.

Ms Sisulu said they used the Maseru post and “experienced the problems that the King would have experienced”. She said they then held discussions with the border officials who assured them that there was a restructuring process which will help solve the pressing issue of poor service delivery at the borders.

“The King downplayed the incident saying “it was okay” but as it was described to us, it was completely unacceptable that the King should have experienced what he experienced at the border.

“We are going home now and we will have discussions with the (South African) Minister of Home Affairs (Malusi Gigaba). We also brought a delegation from the Free State and we will work together to make sure that we don’t have a repeat of these problems that have occurred at the border.”

For his part, Mr Hlaele said the government accepted the apology from their South African counterparts.

“We also accept the commitment made by South Africa through the minister (Sisulu) and we look forward to working together to resolve the challenges at the Maseru and Maputsoe Borders,” Mr Hlaele said.

Meanwhile, Mr Gigaba recently revealed that the two governments were working together on the travelling arrangements for His Majesty and other very important people (VIPs) “so that we are able to expedite them to avoid a recurrence of the situation which happened in the past”.

Mr Gigaba alleged that the February incident in which His Majesty was ill-treated at the Maseru border happened after it was found that the permits of His Majesty’s bodyguards had expired.

“There are diplomatic discussions between the Republic of South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho in that regard. The issue (of the delaying of His Majesty at the Maseru border) pertained not to immigration but it pertained to expired weapon permits which had not been renewed and there should have been protocols that were followed between the police of both countries to ensure that they dealt with that issue accordingly,” Mr Gigaba said during last week’s tour of the Maseru border post.

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Sunday Express is Lesotho's only Sunday newspaper. Published every Sunday and distributed nationwide.  News: editor@sundayexpress.co.ls | Advertising: marketing@sundayexpress.co.ls | Telephone: +266 2231 5356

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