No end in sight to border taxi wars
WHILE Basotho recently witnessed many changes following the changing of the guard as a result of the 28 February 2015 elections, the incessant barricades at the border posts are still with us. The saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same certainly rings true in Lesotho as the turf war between Lesotho and south African transport operators continues unabated.
As reported elsewhere in this edition, taxi-operators barricaded the Maseru Bridge Border Post after another confrontation with their south African counterparts. And as has been the case in previous occasions, government officials were reduced to mere spectators as chaos reigned at the Lesotho’s premier border post.
Although the losses incurred by the closing off of the country’s major gateway into south Africa cannot be quantified, it would not be an overstatement that Lesotho has lost millions amid the commotion. Thousands of travelers were inconvenienced and deterred from fulfilling their objectives timeously owing to this senseless and unnecessary standoff.
Tourists from far and wide were also likely to be shocked to see a border closed off, something that would be unprecedented anywhere else in the world.
In the ensuing melee, a number of Lesotho taxis were also destroyed and their drivers assaulted. Yet taxis from other countries like Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, among others, can freely enter and leave south Africa without the risk of attack.
Once again, the south African police have shown their complicity in the perpetration of this illegal blockade of Lesotho taxis by refusing to arrest those responsible. They have also been accused of telling Lesotho taxi drivers to ferry passengers across the border at their own risk.
This is a straightforward issue; blocking Lesotho taxis is illegal and our government is within its rights to lodge a complaint against Pretoria.
As for the hapless Basotho attempting to visit loved ones in Lesotho and then commute to their workplaces in south Africa, it was a classic case of double jeopardy. They also had to contend with harassment and deportations at the hands of the south African immigration authorities.
What is not in dispute is the need for a long-term solution to this problem. successive governments have promised, during their election campaigns, to address this issue, only to sheepishly back off after assuming power.
Instead of empty promises, our leaders need to finally secure a special immigration dispensation for Lesotho, given our unique geographical situation of being wholly surrounded by our neighbour.
We cannot be treated in the same manner as other countries since we do not have another outlet except through south Africa.
The previous coalition government promised to make this a reality, but was hamstrung by internecine squabbles to the detriment of the national interest.
The current government needs to tackle head on their south African counterparts about the impunity with which Lesotho taxis are attacked. Only the south African government can stop their taxi drivers from attacking Basotho since the attacks happen in their country. Otherwise, if Lesotho Mounted Police service or Lesotho Defence force intervened, it would be tantamount to a foreign invasion.
As reported in this edition, newly-appointed Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane promised to seek an audience with his south African counterpart Malusi Gigaba in a bid to find a long-term solution to the immigration issue and other problems at our respective borders.
Indeed addressing these issues should rank among the foremost priorities, not only for Advocate Rakuoane’s ministry, but the government as a whole. While it is common knowledge that we depend on south Africa for many of our imports, our neighbour should nonetheless treat us with the respect that behooves a fellow sovereign state.
If the seven-party managed to secure a better deal for Basotho travelling to south Africa, they would be rewarded by an electorate tired of being ridden roughshod at the borders.