‘Re­laxed im­mi­gra­tion con­trols the an­swer’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

SOUTH Africa has launched a crack­down against im­mi­grants who con­tinue flock­ing to the eco­nomic gi­ant with­out the nec­es­sary doc­u­men­ta­tion. Af­ter round­ing up the il­le­gal mi­grants, the South African govern­ment first takes them to hold­ing cen­tres for vet­ting, be­fore de­port­ing them to their re­spec­tive coun­tries. Ba­sotho have not been spared this clam­p­down and are mostly dumped at the Maseru Bridge Bor­der Post when they are be­ing booted out of South Africa. In this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, Maseru District Ad­min­is­tra­tor (DA), (Re­tired) Ma­jor Gen­eral Sa­muel Makoro, tells Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, how his of­fice be­comes in­volved once the de­por­tees are off­loaded at the bridge.

LT: Ba­sotho, as with other for­eign­ers found to be il­le­gally stay­ing in South Africa, con­tinue to be de­ported from the re­gional eco­nomic gi­ant yet this does not ap­pear to de­ter them from re­turn­ing once again. A fort­night ago, hun­dreds of our peo­ple were dumped at the bor­der once again, and your of­fice was left to pick up the pieces, so to speak. Could you tell us how your of­fice deals with this is­sue?

Makoro: It is true that Ba­sotho are be­ing ar­rested in large num­bers in South Africa be­cause they would be in that coun­try il­le­gally. Most are ar­rested be­cause their travel doc­u­ments would be in­valid or due to ex­pired visas. When they are ar­rested along­side other for­eign na­tion­als, they are taken to a de­ten­tion cen­tre called Lin­dela.

From Lin­dela, the South African po­lice or­gan­ise buses to trans­port them to their re­spec­tive coun­tries’ main bor­ders. For Ba- sotho, the buses nor­mally dump them at the Maseru bor­der. It is then the re­spon­si­bil­ity of my of­fice to get them from the Maseru bor­der and dis­trib­ute them to their re­spec­tive dis­tricts across the coun­try. Just last week, eight buses dropped hun­dreds of them at the bor­der and my of­fice had to do some­thing to make sure those peo­ple ar­rive home safely.

LT: How do you plan for this?

Makoro:

For years now this task has re- mained the most dif­fi­cult func­tion this of­fice has had to per­form. This is­sue in­volves ve­hi­cles to fetch these peo­ple from the bor­der and then ferry them to their re­spec­tive des­ti­na­tions. We do not have such ve­hi­cles at this of­fice to trans­port them in such large num­bers. We al­ways rely on bor­row­ing Quan­tum minibuses from govern­ment min­istries.

We have also made an ar­range­ment to li­aise with DA of­fices in the dis­tricts. Through the ar­range­ment, my of­fice only has to de­liver the de­por­tees to Mafeteng, for the en­tire South­ern re­gion, and Berea, for the North. How­ever, the big­ger chal­lenge re­mains trans­port­ing de­por­tees from Thaba-tseka.

Be­cause the district, like Maseru, is in the Cen­tral re­gion, the de­por­tees can­not be dropped ei­ther in Berea or Maseru, yet be­cause of the ter­rain, Thaba-tseka is dif­fi­cult to reach con­sid­er­ing the type of ve­hi­cles we use, and the fact that they are only bor­rowed. The other dif­fi­cult place to reach is Se­monkong.

LT: Are there other chal­lenges con­cern­ing trans­porta­tion of the de­por­tees?

Makoro: Bud­get con­straints is a big is­sue. You might be aware that DA of­fices fall un­der the Min­istry of Lo­cal Govern­ment and Chief­tain­ship, which is a new min­istry es­tab­lished af­ter the en­act­ment of the Lo­cal Govern­ment Act of 1997.

Be­fore the min­istry came into be­ing, of­fices of the DA were an arm of the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs. Through the lat­ter’s Im­mi­gra­tion De­part­ment, the is­sue of de­por­tees from South Africa could be well man­aged and bud­geted for. But with the Min­istry of Lo­cal Govern­ment, even as we speak about the bud­get pro­posal pre­sented in par­lia­ment ear­lier this month, there is no spe­cific fund­ing pro­posed for this func­tion of deal­ing with de­por­tees. Through­out all these years we have al­ways had to fork out our monies to per­form this func­tion.

How­ever, to our re­lief, some de­por­tees, af­ter be­ing dumped at the bor­der or dropped at our of­fices here, are quick to find their way home through their own means. Some even go to ra­dio sta­tions to no­tify their fam­ily mem­bers to come and pick them up. The other chal­lenge is that be­cause we use govern­ment-bor­rowed ve­hi­cles to dis­trib­ute the de­por­tees, we en­counter in­stances whereby we have to pay more for ac­com­mo­da­tion and meals for driv­ers who nor­mally do not work be­yond 4:30pm. Even the ve­hi­cles they drive, if a spe­cial ar­range­ment is not made, they au­to­mat­i­cally lock them­selves up at 4:30pm, and the driver would be stuck.

Job op­por­tu­ni­ties are the main rea­son peo­ple end up tak­ing such risks. South Africa has a bet­ter econ­omy and Ba­sotho are look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to earn a liv­ing. They don’t mind over­stay­ing in South Africa il­le­gally. You will be sur­prised that we have since no­ticed that some of these de­por­tees ac­tu­ally sur­ren­der them­selves to the po­lice to be taken to Lin­dela so that they have free trans­port to travel back home. They then bring what­ever wealth they would have at­tained in South Africa to their fam­i­lies in Le­sotho and go back again to that coun­try to make more money and re­turn the same way, re­peat­edly. Most of them, as they ar­rive here af­ter be­ing de­ported, re­turn to South Africa on the same day with­out even vis­it­ing their homes. They im­me­di­ately fol­low the buses which would have dropped them at the bor­der.

LT: What about this is­sue of peo­ple drown­ing while try­ing to cross Cale­don river? Do you have more in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing such deaths?

Makoro: I can­not re­ally con­firm what this pub­li­ca­tion was say­ing. How­ever, I can only con­firm that there are many Ba­sotho who cross the bor­der through il­le­gal routes as they seek to go to their re­spec­tive des­ti­na­tions in South Africa. Some even know peo­ple who stay at the bor­der to as­sist peo­ple cross il­le­gally into South Africa. It is an un­law­ful prac­tice which un­for­tu­nately hap­pens ev­ery day at our por­ous bor­ders, and which the au­thor­i­ties con­tinue to try and stop but ap­pear un­able to.

LT: What could be done to solve this is­sue?

Makoro: Per­son­ally, in my own opin­ion, I think a last­ing so­lu­tion would only come if the South African au­thor­i­ties can agree to re­lax con­di­tions on cross-bor­der move­ment be­tween the two coun­tries. I am say­ing this be­cause we are com­pletely land­locked by South Africa and there is nowhere we can go with­out first hav­ing to go to South Africa.

Maybe a lot of peo­ple might not agree with me on this one, but I think South Africa should just al­low free move­ment be­tween our two coun­tries. Be­cause of the eco­nomic hard­ship in Le­sotho, Ba­sotho al­ways want to try bet­ter things in South Africa.

I know many may view this as al­most sell­ing Le­sotho into be­com­ing South Africa’s 10th prov­ince, but with ad­e­quate and ac­cu­rate cross-bor­der sys­tems avail­able for the process, it could be easy to con­trol the move­ment with­out strin­gent con­di­tions which South African au­thor­i­ties con­tinue to im­pose on us.

Other than that, I can say we are cur­rently work­ing di­rectly to­gether with the min­istries of For­eign Af­fairs, Po­lice, So­cial De­vel­op­ment, Health and Home Af­fairs to see how best this is­sue could be ad­dressed.

Maseru District ad­min­is­tra­tor (re­tired) Ma­jor Gen­eral sa­muel Makoro.

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