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Zuma visit disappoints

EVEN before President Jacob Zuma arrived here for his two-day state visit that ended on Friday, his agenda was already cut out for him — at least according to public opinion. 

Precisely, Basotho expected him to lift the stringent controls that South Africa has put on its borders with Lesotho.

That expectation was not without justification.

Since South Africa introduced the new measures, thousands of Basotho have failed to cross the borders using temporary travel documents.

Business leaders on either side of the borders are worried about plans to phase out the six-month permit that allowed them to cross the borders without going through the normally tortuous immigration procedures.

They are worried that their products will be delayed at the borders and they will have to wait for long hours before they can cross into either of the two countries.

Basotho who live in South Africa but work in Lesotho are also anxious.

Because Zuma left Lesotho on Friday without providing a concrete solution to the border crisis the public opinion is that his visit was a non-event.

It’s a harsh judgment but one that’s justified because of the frustration people have to endure.

In that regard we believe Zuma failed not only Basotho but South Africans as well.

Many South African companies, especially in the border towns, rely heavily on the Lesotho market.

Since South Africa tightened its borders many shops and businesses in these towns have suffered.

Retail shops in towns like Ladybrand are feeling the pinch.

So are other service providers like banks that got business from Lesotho.

By skirting the issue, Zuma only made their hopes bleaker.

Then there are Basotho who earn their living on nearby South African farms but are reeling because they cannot cross the border due to lack of passports.

Zuma said the controls were meant to curb crime but he seems to forget that they might create an even bigger problem for both South Africa and Lesotho.

Criminals can still cross between the two countries through undesignated areas.

It’s already happening.

So porous are these borders that trying to control the official borders is like trying to stop a gushing hot spring with bare hands.

It makes more sense to allow the temporary documents than to push people to enter the country with nothing at all.

Zuma could have allowed their use without making them a permanent solution to the problem.

That’s because the real solution to this problem must come from the Lesotho government and not Zuma.

It is Lesotho that must issue passports to Basotho.

But it will be unfair to consider Zuma’s whole visit a total failure on the basis of the border crisis alone.

South Africa pledged to help fund infrastructural development around the Polihali and Metolong projects.

That’s welcome.

He also pledged to help build the Sani Pass road to connect Mokhotlong to KwaZulu-Natal.

That’s a boon for our ailing tourism industry.

He also brought along with him an entourage of South African businesspeople who wanted to explore investment opportunities in Lesotho.

On this one, we must however hasten to register our doubt that this will help Lesotho.

That’s because what ails Lesotho is not the lack of investors but the lack of investor-friendly laws.

Registering a company in Lesotho is still a hassle.

It is a struggle to get work permits for expatriates with unique skills.

Permanent residence permits take months to get processed and even when they come they are only valid for two years.

We are an exceptionally poor country but we still insist on forcing foreign investors to go into partnerships with locals.

Our land laws are still restrictive.

We lack the human resource capacity but our laws make it difficult for companies to off-load problem workers or employ expatriates.

Until we have sorted out these fundamental issues Zuma can bring zillions of businesspeople but we will never get a dime.

Foreign investors will continue to shun us.

Solutions to our problems must start with us before we start importing presidents to help us.

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