Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

ANC lashes at Tsekoa

Caswell Tlali

BLOEMFONTEIN — The African National Congress (ANC) says it is shocked by Lesotho Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa’s allegation that South Africa was treating the kingdom’s citizens worse than they suffered under apartheid rule.

Tsekoa last week angrily accused South Africa of refusing to ease movement between the two countries after the republic imposed tighter border restrictions in the run-up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The new restrictions saw thousands of Lesotho citizens who were using one-page temporary travel documents being denied entry into South Africa, while queues started to swell at border posts for the scanning of passports.

Lesotho has more than 50 000 of its people working in South African mines, while thousands others are either working elsewhere or studying in the republic.

Tsekoa told a press conference in Maseru on Tuesday that the ANC-led government felt “offended when told that the way it treats Basotho is worse than the dealings between the two countries during white rule”.

The minister said he was concerned that Lesotho’s “accommodating diplomacy” was being interpreted by the kingdom’s citizens as “folding arms and doing nothing” about South Africa’s “high-handed” bilateral relations especially regarding the issue of free movement of citizens between the two countries.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu on Thursday said the ruling party was shocked that an “African minister could ululate apartheid”.

“Although this is supposed to be a government to government issue, we are only coming in as the ruling party because of the seriousness of the minister’s statements,” Mthembu said in a interview with South Africa’s Free State Times.

“We believe these are his views and not those of the people of Lesotho.

“The people of Lesotho, who suffered together with the people of South Africa during white rule, will never ululate apartheid.

“It appears the minister was not on the receiving end of apartheid — that’s why as the ANC we are saying it is unfortunate for a senior diplomat who happens to be the foreign affairs minister of Lesotho to say that.”

“To us this is a serious diplomatic blunder,” he added.

Nelson Kgwete, the director for media relations in South Africa’s international relations ministry, said it would not be good for the two countries to quarrel over Tsekoa’s statements.

“Firstly, the minister’s statements have not been brought to our attention, but we are not going to enter into a
personal discussion with the Lesotho minister,” Kgwete told the Free State Times.

“It’s not going to help to get into a spat, so we will only clarify the issue of border restrictions as we continue trying to strengthen our relations.”

At the press conference Tsekoa accused the South African government of not being interested in Lesotho’s quest for free movement at the borders.

He said although the two governments had agreed to work together to find solutions to the border crisis, the authorities in Pretoria had always dragged their feet on the issue.

He said meetings between Lesotho’s Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla and his South African counterpart, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, had failed to yield satisfactory results.

“At one time my senior, Home Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Honourable Lesao Lehohla, jetted to Pretoria to meet his counterpart with whom they had agreed to a meeting but to his surprise he was told upon arrival that she was in Cape Town,” Tsekoa said.

“Honourable Lehohla then sought money from our High Commission and caught a plane to Cape Town so that he could meet the minister who had left Pretoria knowing well that she would have a visitor.”

Tsekoa said when the meeting failed to resolve the border row, King Letsie III then invited President Jacob Zuma on a state visit to Lesotho in August 2010 where he was confronted about the border crisis.

Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili also met Zuma on the same issue.

“President Zuma pointed to his ministers as the ones directly dealing with the issues raised and the two governments agreed on follow-up meetings,” Tsekoa said.

“The officials met several times and eventually agreed to have a meeting in Maseru but to this day it has never happened.”

Tsekoa said King Letsie III also raised similar concerns when he visited South Africa in August 2010.

He said although follow-up meetings had taken place between the two countries nothing had changed on the ground.

The situation had worsened with long queues of cargo trucks and private cars re-emerging of late, Tsekoa said.

He said he had at one time been harassed by South African border police when they ordered him to get out of his ministerial vehicle and present his passport.

Tsekoa said he sometimes asks South Africa’s High Commissioner to Lesotho, Happy Mahlangu, to accompany him to the border to see how desperate the situation is for Basotho.

“I just want him to write about the things he witnesses when he writes his reports,” Tsekoa said.

He said the tight border control was scaring investors away from Lesotho.

Of late people from other parts of the world are not allowed to catch planes to Lesotho at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg until the South African authorities issue them with transit visas.

“We told the South African government that they are destroying our investor attractiveness,” Tsekoa said.

“We have a great challenge of bringing our visitors here without first going to South Africa.”

Kgwete, however, said South Africa’s tight border controls were not targeted at Lesotho.

“We don’t believe that restrictions imposed are unreasonable,” Kgwete said.

“The restrictions are in line with Sadc guidelines and they are therefore not unique to Lesotho.

“All our arrangements are intended to allow free movement while maintaining security.

“This will also minimise criminal activities on either side.”

Comments are closed.