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Lesotho’s sovereignty under siege

LESOTHO has successfully resisted two major challenges presented by South Africa: colonial encroachment and the apartheid regime.

The refusal of Basotho to be incorporated in the Union of South Africa in 1910 marked a significant achievement in the right to political self-determination. 

While this could be a celebrated decision, the earlier Anglo-Boer connivance on boundaries and the formation of Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) as the economic chapter of the strategic take over were done.

The fact that Lesotho is locked in the belly of the beast geographically and it is an economic enclave to South Africa, is a result of an injustice of the past.

It would therefore be incorrect to exclude this when the African National Congress (ANC) claims to be correcting the injustices of the past.

This vulnerable position of Lesotho has been used by South Africa in different ways to prevent Lesotho from acting as a truly sovereign country.

Has the demise of apartheid meant good for Basotho? 

Unless something drastic is done, Lesotho may lose sovereignty, some experts argue.

This is not fearmongering.

It is based on the reality that currently prevails.

The 1994 political change in South Africa celebrated worldwide meant a different reality for its tiny anti-apartheid neighbour. 

The international community found Lesotho as a strategic partner and location for fighting apartheid.

But when the war against apartheid was won, the limelight shifted to the new South Africa thus leaving Lesotho in the dark. 

South Africa presents itself as a virgin economy to the international community with its high level of infrastructural development in the region, its eagerness to re-join the global community and potential to become a dominant regional power.

It is clearly more attractive to the international investors than Lesotho.

After 1994 Basotho saw loses of jobs in the South African mines, exodus of diplomatic missions and international organisations from Maseru to Pretoria and recently the decline in Sacu revenue and the cross-border movement. 

It is increasingly becoming difficult for Basotho, even the skilled to get employment in South Africa without South African IDs.

Yet Basotho labour helped build the South African economy.

 The harsh global economic developments where the rich and the powerful determine rules which the weaker and the poor have to follow further entrench the difficulties of tiny states like Lesotho.

Lesotho has to weather the storm and the cost of depending on the only neighbour whose integration into the global economy is far beyond that of a third world country. 

In this complex global political economy South Africa is alone in taking the silverside stake pieces from the high table.

Little Lesotho has to struggle on its own to get the crumbs from this dog-eat-dog global economy that places capitalistic rewards ahead of humanity. 

Rich countries pollute the environment by emitting high levels of carbon for economic accumulation, and use their resources to mitigate the negative impact of climate change while poor countries which pollute less pay more as they have no resources for adaptation.

South Africa does the same to Lesotho.

Given its economic muscle South Africa has ways of mitigating the negative impacts of neo-liberalism on its poor people.

Lesotho lacks the same resources.

Because of the deputy sheriff role South Africa has taken the environment becomes even more hostile for Lesotho.

Since 1994 the governments of Lesotho and South Africa under the so called liberation organisations have buried their heads in the sand to avoid the need to redefine identities of these countries. 

For a reason of course, this is a highly contentious issue.

Perhaps the two governments should find wisdom in establishing a permanent commission to specifically facilitate the implementation of the Joint Bilateral Commission of Cooperation and generally nurture the debate over how the outstanding controversies could be amicably resolved for the two countries to re-define their identities. 

In its wisdom the permanent commission shall find ways of opening debate on existing colonial, unjust and artificial territorial boundaries.

In 1982 the Security Council of the United Nations fined South Africa for attacking Lesotho and killing Basotho and South Africans (ANC members mostly). 

South Africa has not yet honoured that.

Many South Africans like Naledi Pandor, Tito Mboweni, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Phumzile Ncguka and many others studied in Lesotho. 

The citizens of the two politically sovereign states should equally benefit in the post-apartheid era.

The two countries have implemented the Lesotho Highlands Water Project which could not have been were it not because of the special institutional arrangement to deliver the project.

So why not an institution to deal with the issues our governments find hard to deal with?

There is a border crisis.

Lesotho’s economy is smoldering because Sacu revenues have dried up.

Basotho can no longer work in South Africa without permits or South African IDs. 

Re-definition neither means annexation nor capitulation of sovereignty.

? Sofonea Shale is a civil society activist in Lesotho. You can reach him at shalesofonea@yahoo.com

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