No end in sight to bor­der taxi wars

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

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.

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