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SA says no to electric border fence

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Bongiwe Zihlangu

 

MASERU — The South African government has rejected demands by a group of Free State farmers to erect an electric fence along the country’s border with Lesotho.

The South African government and the farmers’ group, Free State Agriculture (FSA), last week reached an out-of-court settlement which saw most of the farmers’ demands receiving approval from the authorities.

According to South African press reports, the agreement includes the Lesotho-South Africa border road being rebuilt and the border fence replaced at a cost of R5.5 million.

But the farmers’ initial demand that an electric fence be erected along South Africa’s borderline with Lesotho was rejected by the government, according to press reports.

The South African government agreed to deploy an additional 150 police officers to beef up the initial team of 130 policemen already working along the border.

The agreement would also see the South African government supplying surveillance equipment to monitor the border.

The parties also agreed to establish cross-border liaison committees to sustain “healthy neighbourly relations with the government of Lesotho and the country’s citizens residing along the border”.

FSA manager Henk Vermeulen said the agreement was reasonable and was a victory for all South Africans, “specifically farmers along the border”.

“The most important aspect is that a partnership has been created with the government to solve the borderline issue to the benefit of all involved,” Vermeulen was quoted as saying.

He described the agreement as a process and that “hard work is still ahead”.

FSA’s case against South African authorities was heard in the Bloemfontein High Court on April 22.

In their court application the farmers had argued that Lesotho’s border infrastructure and security had disintegrated to such an extent that it had become “almost impossible for farmers to continue farming”.

The farmers said their livestock had been stolen and their crops damaged by cattle that crossed the border into South Africa.

FSA wanted the court to compel the South African government to erect an electric fence along the Lesotho-South Africa border and to upgrade the border infrastructure.

The group’s legal expenses were sponsored to the tune of R394 000 by Grain SA, a voluntary organisation that represents South African grain producers.

When the news broke in April, Lesotho’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa condemned the demand for the erection of an electric fence along the border as a “terrible tragedy”.

Tsekoa had promised that the Lesotho government would “oppose attempts to fence the border”.

He had vowed to raise the matter with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma when he visits Lesotho in August.

Tsekoa was not available to comment on last week’s out-of-court settlement between FSA and the South African government.

Meanwhile the Lesotho People’s Charter Movement (LPCM), a civic group pushing for free movement between the two countries, told the Sunday Express it welcomed the out-of-court settlement.

The group had in April sworn to oppose the FSA’s case to have the electric fence erected saying it did not want “another Berlin Wall here”.

LPCM spokesperson, Vuyani Tyhali, on Friday said they had not yet seen the contents of the agreement and that “we will be convinced once we have the document”.

“As long as the agreement does not endorse the erection of an electric fence along the two countries’ borderline, I am fine with everything else,” Tyhali said.

Tyahali also said they were proceeding with their efforts to push for the amendment of section 41 of the constitution of Lesotho which does not recognise dual citizenship.

“We have submitted a petition with 30 000 signatures in support of dual citizenship to the National Assembly, Senate and South African government through its embassy in Maseru,” Tyahali said.

“We gave them until July 25 to have issued a response to the petition. The Senate has responded citing that it was still deliberating on the matter and that it will get back to us.”

The LPCM has come under fire for what critics say is an attempt to mortgage Lesotho to South Africa by pushing for the integration of the mountain kingdom into its giant neighbour.

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