HOME Affairs Minister Mokhele Moletsane says despite having hundreds of thousands of illegal Basotho immigrants in South Africa, it would be “detrimental, irresponsible and dangerous” for the government to ask them to return home due to the country’s economic challenges.
Mr Moletsane said this in a recent interview with the Sunday Express. His remarks come against the background of the recent decision by the South African government to renew the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) by another four years.
However, thousands of Basotho who were looking forward to legalising their stay in South Africa in terms of the LSP have had their hopes dashed after the South African government resolved to only renew permits of existing LSP holders rather than accommodate new applicants.
The four-year LSP was introduced in 2016 to enable qualifying Basotho to lawfully work, study or do business in South Africa.
A South African Home Affairs report issued in October 2017 said that 194 941 LSP applications were received out of an estimated 400 000 Basotho believed to be in South Africa.
“Out of these, about 90,225 were approved, 3 582 rejected,” the report stated. Although 90 225 applications were approved, the figure is a drop in the ocean as it represents less than a quarter of the 400 000 Basotho estimated by the South African government to be living within its borders.
Even though most of those who applied succeeded in getting the LSP, more than 300 000 Basotho living in South Africa seem not to have bothered to apply and they are constantly at risk of being arrested and deported from that country after a moratorium of such deportations expired on 31 December 2017.
The current LSPs expire on 31 December 2019 and it was against this background that the South African government last week resolved to extend the LSPs by a further four years.
In its statement, the South African government said the extension would enable the Department of Home Affairs to conclude its work in finding ways to address issues of migration, particularly for citizens from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
However, the statement indicated that the extension is only applicable to existing LSP holders effectively dashing the hopes of hundreds of thousands of illegal Basotho who had hoped to regularise their stay this time around.
Mr Moletsane said they were still making efforts to convince their South African counterparts to consider new applications.
“The extension is only meant for those who already have the LSP and South Africa said they are still working on their policies to address the migration issues in the SADC region,” Mr Moletsane said.
“We tried and we will still try to convince South Africa to consider new applications even if we respect the decision they have made not to open the door to new applicants.”
He said there were various factors which prevented most Basotho from applying or succeeding in the LSP applications. He however, said they were no plans to appeal to illegal Basotho immigrants to return home “because we don’t know what we can promise them due to our economic constraints”.
“We are well aware that there are still a lot of Basotho who are illegally in South Africa and while we appreciate that, it would still be detrimental to call them back because we don’t know what we’ll be promising them because they are there in South Africa because of our economic constraints.
“This is a unique case that needs special consideration by the two sister countries and appealing to illegal immigrants to come back would be the most irresponsible and dangerous statement to make.
“The fact remains that Basotho will always be there and our two countries need to come up with a long term solution because we are totally surrounded by South Africa. This is an eternal problem,” Mr Moletsane said.