MASERU — Officials at the Leribe Passport Office were on Thursday nearly manhandled by a group of irate customers demanding their passports.
The officials had to run for dear life after the group barged into their offices demanding that their passports be processed immediately.
Police had to be called to disperse the group.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha confirmed the incident.
He said the police were called after the officers realised that the group was about to turn violent.
“A group of passport service clients broke into the Leribe offices and unlawfully demanded that the officers serve them,” Masupha said.
“The Leribe police quickly dispersed them. There were no injuries reported.”
“No one was arrested,” he added.
Meanwhile, Assistant Home Affairs Minister Lineo Molise-Mabusela on Friday ordered passport officers who had stopped providing services after the incident to resume work with immediate effect.
Speaking on Lesotho TV, Molise-Mabusela castigated the passport officers for not providing good services to the public.
She said the incident on Thursday could not have happened if passport officers did their work properly.
“Passport officers should do their work and serve the nation,” Molise-Mabusela said.
“What the people did by attacking them was not right.
“But it could not have happened if they did their job appropriately.”
A police officer who was part of the team that was called in to deal with the mob said most of the people in the group were Basotho men who work in South African mines.
He said the men had become rowdy after passport officers told them that a list on which their names were written had been lost.
“They began to push in the building and demanded that the officers should give them their passports,” the police officer said.
“They said they wanted to get back to SA or they would lose their jobs.
“Some said they had already lost their jobs because they did not have passports to get back to SA.”
Since June 1, South African immigration officials have turned away thousands of Basotho trying to enter the country using temporary travel documents.
Lesotho is within South Africa and over 50 000 Basotho work in mines in the continent’s economic powerhouse.
Thousands other Basotho work in other sectors or do farm and domestic jobs in the kingdom’s only neighbour.
Hundreds of Basotho students are also studying in South Africa.
However, the majority of them do not have passports and were using temporary travel documents to cross the border.
There are fears hundreds of Basotho migrant workers could have lost their jobs since South Africa introduced its new border control measures.
The local students who study in South Africa could also fail to travel back when schools reopen after the football World Cup which ends next Sunday.
South Africa’s new immigration rules have piled pressure on Lesotho’s Department of Passport Services which is battling to clear a huge backlog of passport applicants.
Some have been waiting for up to three years without getting their passports.
The department’s failure to issue passports expeditiously has spawned corruption involving passport officials.
An investigative report by the Sunday Express in March exposed rampant corruption in the Department of Passport Services.
It revealed a syndicate involving passport officers who were taking bribes to fast-track the issuance of passports.
The scandal was unearthed after an undercover reporter paid a bribe of M800 for a passport to be processed in two days.