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Free State farmers sue over border fence

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — A group of Free State farmers has dragged the South African government to court to force it to erect an electrical fence on the country’s border with Lesotho.

They argue that Lesotho’s border infrastructure and security “has disintegrated to such an extent that it has become almost impossible for farmers to continue farming”.

Lesotho is totally surrounded by South Africa.

The Free State farmers say their livestock have been stolen and their crops have been damaged by Basotho livestock that cross the border into South Africa.

Press reports say Free State Agriculture (FSA)’s case against the South African government will be heard in the Bloemfontein High Court on April 22. 

The case is being sponsored by Grain SA, a voluntary organisation that represents South African grain producers.

Grain SA has donated R394 000 for FSA’s legal expenses.

FSA wants the court to compel the government to erect a fence along the Lesotho-South Africa border and to upgrade the border infrastructure.

The March 28 issue of Farmer’s Weekly , a respected South African agriculture magazine, quoted the chairperson of the FSA security committee, Kobus Breytenbach, as saying the court case was their last resort as they “had exhausted all possibilities in trying to address Lesotho border security”.

“Ensuing negotiations with government stakeholders were futile,” Breytenbach said in the interview with the magazine.

Breytenbach said FSA was taking the government to court on the basis of the constitutional provisions “to ensure the safety and security for all citizens in the country”.

Over the years there have been clashes between Basotho and South African farmers over livestock and crop theft.

Accusations have been thrown back and forth with each side accusing the other of stock theft.

Some of the clashes have been bloody, leaving scores dead and others wounded.

Lesotho’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa on Friday condemned FSA’s fight for an electric fence as a “terrible tragedy”.

“It would be a terrible tragedy for South Africa if that were to happen,” Tsekoa told the Sunday Express.

“We don’t choose our neighbours and we are where we are today — totally enclosed by South Africa — as a result of historical treaties signed.”

Tsekoa said the government of Lesotho will continue to oppose attempts to fence the border.

“We have tried before and will not stop trying to ensure that it does not happen,” he said.

“I suspect most of the people behind this are Afrikaans farmers.

“But I doubt their case has merit.

“It will not succeed because it is just an effort to treat people like animals.”

According to Tsekoa, South Africans from KwaZulu-Natal province also come into Lesotho to steal livestock in Mokhotlong but the Lesotho government had never suggested erecting an electric fence in that border area.

He added that the challenges the two countries experienced had motivated them to enter into an agreement of co-operation beneficial for development. 

“That is why the two countries have entered into a bilateral commission of co-operation in order to find ways of working together with regard to free movement and development,” he said.

Tsekoa said the government will raise the issue with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma when he comes here for a state visit in August.

“When President Zuma comes to Lesotho on a state visit in August, we will raise the issue with him,” he said.

“We will also have him know that we strongly condemn the proposal.”

Meanwhile, Lesotho People’s Charter Movement (LPCM) spokesperson Vuyani Tyale has criticised FSA’s decision as “barbaric”.

“We are shocked by FSA’s display of arrogance,” Tyale said.

“This is so wrong and barbaric. We do not need another Berlin Wall here.

“We need to move freely and without having to produce passports.”

Tyale said the LPCM — a civic movement pushing for Lesotho’s incorporation into South Africa — would oppose the case and that the group will be in Bloemfontein on April 22.

“We are going to oppose the erection of an electric fence along the Lesotho-South Africa borderline when the case is heard on April 22,” Tyale said.

“Whether or not they have concerns is irrelevant.

“Our only concern is free movement between the two countries, for which we advocate strongly.”

Tyale said the LPCM was also pushing for the amendment of Section 41 of the Lesotho’s constitution to allow for dual citizenship.

“We have been mobilising support for the amendment of Section 41 of the constitution to allow for dual citizenship,” he said.

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