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4 500 Basotho released from SA

SX 02Boitumelo Koloi

MASERU — South Africa has released about 4 500 Basotho who had been detained in that country for flouting immigration laws, the Lesotho Consulate in South Africa told Sunday Express yesterday.

Lesotho Vice-Consul, Tumisang Mokoai, said scores of Basotho had been detained in South Africa for offences such as overstaying in that country or failure to produce passports.

Mokoai said the 4 500 Basotho, had come back home through all the 14 borders with the giant neighbour within the two weeks of the festive season starting from December 16.

He said that his office had been working tirelessly with the South African Home Affairs department, as well as the judiciary in that country, rescuing scores of Basotho some of whom were at the point of detention in most of the border towns with Lesotho.

“We have been patrolling police stations, correctional service institutes and in some cases even magistrates’ courts in search of Basotho who may be detained or at the point trial for breaching South African immigration laws,” Mokaoi said.

In the period leading to Christmas, South African police, soldiers as well as immigration officials, clamped down on Basotho without valid passports.

In the process many have been locked up in prisons and police holding cells, where they have been rescued by officials of the consulate office.

In some instances, people have been arrested at roadblocks leading to the South African borders with Lesotho by members of the South African military and locked up in police holding cells where they have even been forgotten hence they spend weeks without trial until they were rescued by the consulate.

On New Year’s Day, Lesotho woke up to the news that South Africa would henceforth demand that Basotho visiting that country have their passports stamped before entering South Africa, contrary to the previous arrangement where Basotho only had to have their passports stamped on reaching the South African side.

South Africa’s Home Affairs authorities told their counterparts in Lesotho that they now wanted to see Lesotho passports stamped for departure from Lesotho, failing which Basotho passport holders would be barred from entering that country.

As a result of the change, hundreds of Basotho going back to work in South Africa after the holiday break were denied entry into that country if their passports were not stamped in Lesotho.

Most Basotho who work in South Africa mainly doing informal jobs, like working as construction labourers, domestic workers and farm hands, either do not have passports or they stay beyond the legally stipulated period of visiting that country.

“Their main complaint is that there are no jobs in Lesotho and passports’ processing takes too long”, Mokoai said.

Since their jobs are not guaranteed, they often run the risk of losing them if they stay in Lesotho trying to get legitimise documentation so they say they would rather enter that country illegally just to save their jobs.

Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo, says about 150 000 Basotho cross the Maseru Bridge border post to South Africa to seek or report for work in that country every year around the Christmas break, making the Maseru bridge the third busiest border in the southern Africa sub region after the Beit Bridge border post with Zimbabwe and the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

But the Lesotho Consulate office says overlooking proper travel documentation by Basotho means that they are prone to arrest for illegally residing in South Africa.

“Our people are very negligent about acquiring passports and this disadvantages them because South Africa is tightening its security measures and evicting all people who for one reason or another are illegal residents there, including Basotho,” Mokoai said.

He therefore urged Basotho to take heed and secure valid passports.

Some people opt for dangerous means of crossing into South Africa including jumping the border by wading across the Mohokare River, a feat which has proven to be very risky in many instances.

Last week a man was shot and injured by the South African armed forces while trying to illegally cross the Mohokare into South Africa.

Mokoai said his office was continually sensitizing Basotho about the danger of illegally residing in any country,”. . . but our people still continue to be arrested for being in South Africa illegally”.

“There was a point at Kroonstad where I personally had to literally beg a magistrate to release about 30 Basotho and have them accordingly deported back home for staying in that country illegally,” Mokoai said.

He said just after he had succeeded in the negotiations for his countrymen, a military truck carrying about 28 more arrived at the same court in Kroonstad for a similar hearing, “. . . again I had to plead for their release and at least secure their deportation”.

Mokoai said the Lindela Holding Facility — a holding centre for all immigrants illegally residing in South Africa — was also flooded with Lesotho nationals facing deportation.

“As at Thursday last week, there were at least 350 Basotho, 19 of whom were women some with young kids, being held at Lindela whose deportation is being processed. This is very worrisome,” he said.

Meanwhile Mokoai also dismissed claims that persons being held in the holding facility at Lindela were being abused as baseless and unfounded “as the Lindela holding facility is wrought with lots of security cameras hence it is utterly impossible for such (abuses) to go on unnoticed in there”.

There have been claims on a local radio station that Basotho held at Lindela in north Gauteng were being assaulted and sexually abused.

The plight of Basotho illegally resident in South Africa also includes those illegally extracting precious minerals in abandoned mines.

According to Mokoai “these are the dangerous lot as they roam that country armed to the teeth with unlicensed firearms killing fellow countrymen”.

“There are two Basotho men who were sentenced to 90 and 48 years respectively for killing fellow Basotho in an 800 metre-long shaft.

“They were found in possession of illegal firearms and had a history of recurrent murders,” Mokoai said.

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