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SA snubs protestors

Pascalinah Kabi

THE South African government has reportedly snubbed the organisers of tomorrow’s protest march against poor services offered at the Lesotho/South Africa border gates, forcing the organisers to abandon their initial plan of crossing into South Africa to submit a petition to authorities.

The Free Basotho Movement yesterday told the Sunday Express that they were forced to change their plans after the South African government failed to respond to their request to march from Lesotho to the South African side of the border.

The protest comes in the wake of last week’s revelations that His Majesty, King Letsie III was ill-treated by South African border police on his way back from a private visit to Durban.

Narrating the King’s ordeal, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lesego Makgothi, last week said the King’s motorcade was stopped and searched early last month by the South African Police Service (SAPS) at the Maseru Border Gate. This was despite the standing protocol that this should never happen.  During the search, the SAPS officials demanded permits for guns and ammunition carried by the King’s bodyguards.

In the aftermath of Mr Makgothi’s revelations, the Free Basotho Movement decided to organise a march to protest the ill-treatment of the King and the poor service delivery that Basotho are often subjected to by South African immigration officials.

Long queues have become commonplace as South African immigration officials are often not at their posts to serve travelers while those in attendance operate at a snail’s pace and appear to be on a permanent go slow.

Free Basotho Movement President, Letsema Doctor Morolong, said they had initially sought to close the Maseru border as they marched from Lesotho to the South African side.

Mr Morolong said due to the South African government’s failure to reply to their request to be allowed to march into South Africa, they would now march from Setsoto Stadium to the Moshoeshoe I statue (in Maseru).

“This action of the South African government is a clear indication that they have no respect for Basotho but we will organise another protest march to petition them,” Mr Morolong said.

“Although the South African government’s reaction has affected our plans, it is still an achievement for us to be able to petition the government of Lesotho tomorrow because the government needs to know that we are not happy with the poor services offered at the border gates and that needs to be addressed urgently.”

He said the protests came at a time when King Letsie III had just been harassed by the SA immigration officers.

South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, Lindiwe Sisulu, has since announced she will  soon visit Lesotho to personally apologise to  King Letsie III over the “harassment and embarrassment” inflicted upon him by  South African  immigration officials.

Meanwhile, the Home Affairs minister, Tsukutlane Au, said he would accept the petition from the protestors tomorrow.

“We received a letter from the organisers and nowhere in their official communication did they state their request to close the borders. They sent us two letters- one addressed directly to us and copied to SA Home Affairs and another addressed to SA Home Affairs and copied to us. The letters clearly state all their grievances and we will be there on Monday to accept their petition,” Mr Au said.

In a separate interview, South African Home Affairs ministry representative, Thabo Mokgola, declined to comment on the issue, saying he had not seen the protestors’ letter.

Meanwhile, South Africa has deployed 30 more immigration officers as well as the police and military personnel to its border posts with Lesotho as part of efforts to manage high volumes of travelers during the Easter holidays.

This was revealed by Home Affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, during his recent tour of the Maseru border post to assess its capacity to manage high volumes of travelers during the holiday.

Speaking at the border post on Thursday last week, Mr Gigaba said an estimated 25 000 people were expected to cross the border on daily basis during Easter holidays.

This, he explained, led to the deployment of 30 immigration officers as well as police and military personnel to man the border post.


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