MASERU — Barely a week after introducing a new gate pass system for motorists at Lesotho’s main border posts, South Africa has bowed to pressure and suspended the procedure until further notice.
A senior official with the South African Revenue Services (SARS) told the Sunday Express it could take at least three months before the system – which had started on February 1 – was introduced again.
“The system has been suspended until further notice,” said Thabane Mvubu, who heads the border control operations coordinating committee at Maseru Bridge.
“It will probably take at least three months before the system is implemented again.”
The volte-face came after Finance Minister Timothy Thahane expressed concerns that the new system had a negative impact on business in Lesotho, which is totally surrounded by South Africa.
Motorists had complained that the new system was cumbersome, resulting in long queues especially at Maseru Bridge border post.
Under the new system, motorists would have to get a gate pass including details of the purpose of their visit to South Africa.
The gate pass would have to be stamped at their port of business within South Africa.
On exiting South Africa, the motorists would have to submit the pass at the border post where it would be analysed and processed.
SARS said the system sought to monitor movement at the country’s border checkpoints as part of efforts to curb crime, including human trafficking.
“In addition to getting the correct statistics of vehicles moving into and out of South Africa, the gate pass system was meant to assist in tackling incidents of human trafficking and other forms of crime,” Mvubu told the Sunday Express.
“It was generally meant to boost our national security.”
But following an outcry by motorists, Thahane announced at a press conference in Maseru on Thursday that Lesotho would press for the temporary suspension of the system.
“Businesspeople coming into the country had to postpone or return, hence the need to negotiate with the South African government to temporarily suspend the new system,” the finance minister said.
“We understand the new system is to be tried for one month after which the decision will be whether it would be made permanent.”
“The Lesotho Revenue Authority is trying to negotiate for the temporary suspension of the gate pass system, while we try to find ways of addressing the situation without disrupting the flow of business,” he added.
“There has to be an understanding between Lesotho and South Africa, as South Africa is our only neighbour.”
Mvubu said South Africa and Lesotho were discussing how best the system could be implemented.
“The two countries are negotiating on the best way forward with regards the system,” he said.