‘Ba­sotho still be­ing ha­rassed in SA’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

South Africa has thrown a life­line to Ba­sotho who had been liv­ing and op­er­at­ing busi­nesses il­le­gally in that coun­try. Be­tween 11 De­cem­ber 2015 and 31 De­cem­ber 2016, Le­sotho na­tion­als with­out the re­quired im­mi­gra­tion pa­pers would not be de­ported from South Africa but are ex­pected to reg­u­lar­ize their stay dur­ing this pe­riod. South Africa has also an­nounced that be­gin­ning 1 Fe­bru­ary 2016, el­i­gi­ble Ba­sotho could ap­ply for a Le­sotho Spe­cial Per­mit. the per­mit would be valid from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2020 and seeks to reg­u­larise the stay of Le­sotho na­tion­als cur­rently re­sid­ing il­le­gally in South Africa, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued by home Affairs Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba.

“In the long run, this mas­sive pro­ject will ad­vance the goals of the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan, pre­cisely be­cause Le­sotho na­tion­als with spe­cial per­mits will work law­fully, pay taxes, and con­trib­ute to the coun­try’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and growth, as well as that of their coun­try. We trust that the pro­ject will pro­mote greater co­op­er­a­tion on man­ag­ing mi­gra­tion chal­lenges be­tween the two coun­tries. Ba­sotho in the coun­try will en­joy pro­tec­tion from un­law­ful labour prac­tices, fraud and cor­rup­tion,” Mr Gi­gaba fur­ther an­nounced.

this week, home Affairs Min­is­ter Lekhetho Rakuoane spoke fur­ther on the per­mits which have been widely hailed by Ba­sotho as they al­low them to be in South Africa with­out un­due ha­rass­ment from un­scrupu­lous of­fi­cials.

the Min­istry of home Affairs Na­tional Iden­tity and Civil Reg­is­tra­tion (NICR) Di­rec­tor, Tumelo Rabo­letse, speaks with Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, about the per­mits and the chal­lenges they present both Le­sotho and South Africa.

LT: Le­sotho Spe­cial Per­mits ap­proved by South Africa last months have be­come a ma­jor talk­ing point among Ba­sotho and this was to be ex­pected con­sid­er­ing Le­sotho’s ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion in re­la­tion to South Africa, which com­pletely sur­rounds the King­dom. Could you please tell us more about the per­mits from a Le­sotho per­spec­tive?

Rabo­letse: Min­is­ter Rakuoane clar­i­fied the agree­ment that the two gov­ern­ments reached with re­spect to Ba­sotho who over­stayed and worked il­le­gally in South Africa. Some of our peo­ple are in South Africa un­doc­u­mented, which means with­out the rel­e­vant im­mi­gra­tion pa­pers, while oth­ers have fraud­u­lently ac­quired South African iden­tity doc­u­ments. So the min­is­ter was clar­i­fy­ing the con­tents of the agree­ment which fol­lowed dis­cus­sions he had with his South African coun­ter­part. the dis­pen­sa­tion, as you should be aware, was ap­proved by the South African cab­i­net in oc­to­ber this year.

LT: But what does the agree­ment re­ally say?

Rabo­letse: First, it saw South Africa an­nounce a mora­to­rium or sus­pen­sion of de­por­ta­tions and de­ten­tion of Le­sotho na­tion­als who resided or worked in South Africa il­le­gally. how­ever, the mora­to­rium ex­cludes peo­ple who have neg­a­tive po­lice clear­ance that is peo­ple who have crim­i­nal records other than im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated of­fences. Se­condly, that amnesty has been granted to all Ba­sotho who ac­quired South African doc­u­ments fraud­u­lently. th­ese peo­ple can now ap­ply reg­u­larise their stay in South Africa through th­ese spe­cial per­mits so that they can work, study or do busi­ness in South Africa.

You will re­mem­ber that Ba­sotho cat­e­go­rized as ‘ low-skilled labour’ could not be is­sued work per­mits in South Africa. South Africa only re­quired highly skilled for­eign­ers in their coun­try. But in light of the many Ba­sotho who work at South African farms, con­struc­tion com­pa­nies and as driv­ers, for ex­am­ple, South Africa has agreed to ac­com­mo­date them through the four-year Le­sotho Dis­pen­sa­tion Per­mits.

LT: What do you need to qual­ify for th­ese per­mits?

Rabo­letse: The first re­quire­ment is that one should be hold­ing a Le­sotho na­tional iden­tity card. Se­condly, one should be hold­ing a valid Le­sotho pass­port. It is crit­i­cal for peo­ple to un­der­stand this does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that you should be hold­ing the e-pass­port (elec­tronic). Even peo­ple with the old ma­chine-read­able pass­ports which are still valid, but are not reg­is­tered un­der the new elec­tronic sys­tem, all they need to do is come and ap­ply for birth cer­tifi­cates and na­tional IDS and then they can go to South Africa us­ing their old travel doc­u­ments. thirdly, they should also be hav­ing neg­a­tive po­lice clear­ance from Le­sotho. And fourthly, they should have a let­ter con­firm­ing that in­deed, they are em­ployed in South Africa.

LT: What has hap­pened to Ba­sotho who were al­ready de­tained in South Africa for im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated crimes?

Rabo­letse: Prior to honourable Gi­gaba’s an­nounce­ment of the spe­cial per­mits, the two coun­tries made ar­range­ments for the re­lease of those de­tained Ba­sotho. the last group of the de­tainees was re­leased early Novem­ber. I was di­rected to go to South Africa and make sure that no Mosotho re­mained in Lin­dela (de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Gaut­eng). I re­mem­ber very well that Min­is­ter Rakuoane had even en­gaged our pri­vate sec­tor to mo­bilise its sup­port in the form of ve­hi­cles to trans­port those Ba­sotho back into the coun­try. So ba­si­cally, the min­istry made sure all Ba­sotho de­tained on im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated charges in South Africa, were re­leased.

As we speak, and as far as we are aware, there is no Mosotho in Lin­dela held on im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated of­fences. how­ever, there are re­ports we are re­ceiv­ing, and we are fol­low- ing those leads, that the po­lice con­tinue to ar­rest Ba­sotho for over­stay­ing their vis­its to South Africa, de­spite this this an­nounce­ment. I think what is crit­i­cal to note here is that Min­is­ter Gi­gaba an­nounced the Le­sotho Dis­pen­sa­tion Per­mit con­sis­tent with the South African Im­mi­gra­tion Act No 13 of 2002. to be spe­cific, Sec­tion 31(2)(b) of the Act gives the min­is­ter power to grant a cat­e­gory of for­eign­ers per­ma­nent res­i­dency for a spec­i­fied or un­spec­i­fied pe­riod when spe­cial cir­cum­stances ex­ist. Mr Gi­gaba used this very same le­gal in­stru­ment to grant Ba­sotho the mora­to­rium.

LT: But why would the po­lice not com­ply with this di­rec­tive?

Rabo­letse: one of the pos­i­tive re­sponses that we are get­ting is that where the po­lice have ar­rested th­ese peo­ple and take them to court, the courts are say­ing to the po­lice ‘if you are pros­e­cut­ing th­ese in­di­vid­u­als in terms of this law, the min­is­ter has now an­nounced that th­ese peo­ple have been par­doned’. I also had a meet­ing with of­fi­cials at the Maseru bor­der, in­clud­ing the po­lice, where now South African im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials also in­di­cated they were aware the po­lice were ar­rest­ing our peo­ple when they knew they were not sup­posed to do so.

the in­for­ma­tion we are re­ceiv­ing is that soon af­ter the an­nounce­ment by the min­is­ter, the mes­sage was sent across the coun­try. But in South Africa, they have what they call pro­vin­cial joint-meet­ings where all heads of de­part­ments meet. We un­der­stand in one of those meet­ings, the is­sue was dis­cussed and clar­i­fied. This mat­ter was even dis­cussed at a much lower level at the bor­ders. I had the priv­i­lege to at­tend one such meet­ing yes­ter­day (Mon­day) in Maseru where this is­sue was clar­i­fied.

But what I ob­served was it was now be­com­ing the norm for of­fi­cials at the bor­der at this time of the year to col­lect some­thing from Ba­sotho who would have over­stayed their visit in South Africa. I think, and this is a per­sonal view and I may be wrong, this is prov­ing a chal­lenge for them to now come to terms with the di­rec­tive of the min­is­ter which he did con­sis­tent with the law. But de­spite this an­nounce­ment, Ba­sotho con­tinue to be ha­rassed in South Africa. Peo­ple are ac­tu­ally be­ing asked to pay for over­stay­ing in South Africa, ei­ther by the po­lice or once they ar­rive at the bor­der.

And when as you make a fol­low up, you find that the peo­ple pay be­cause they would have been threat­ened with ar­rest. Peo­ple pay be­cause they fear de­ten­tion and just want to be home with their loved ones. they leave some­thing for the po­lice or im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials just to al­low them to go. that is a chal­lenge we are try­ing to deal with. I hope to keep en­gag­ing our coun­ter­parts in South Africa in or­der to find a so­lu­tion. Per­haps if we have a joint out­reach to com­mu­ni­cate and make peo­ple un­der­stand this is­sue so that even the po­lice be­gin to un­der­stand this spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion for Ba­sotho.

LT: Back to the four-year per­mits; how much will they cost Ba­sotho?

Rabo­letse: That has not been fi­nalised as yet, but we have dis­cussed the is­sue. We asked that very same ques­tion but could not get a def­i­nite an­swer. How­ever, what we noted was the Depart­ment of home Affairs has out­sourced that func­tion to a pri­vate com­pany. And this very same com­pany was over­see­ing sim­i­lar spe­cial per­mits for Zim­bab­weans. the com­pany was charg­ing R870 each and the per­mits lasted three years. our un­der­stand­ing is that if there will be a fee for Ba­sotho, it will not be more than R870 for four years. We are hop­ing an an­nounce­ment will be made soon on the is­sue.

LT: It is that time of the year when there is con­ges­tion at the bor­ders be­cause of the many Ba­sotho com­ing home for the fes­tive sea­son. Is the min­istry ready for the in­flux?

Rabo­letse: As we speak, the prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary (home Affairs) is hav­ing a meet­ing with the po­lice com­mis­sioner and I know the re­spec­tive min­is­ters are also hav­ing this dis­cus­sion. I think the coun­try is ready to ab­sorb the num­ber of peo­ple that will be com­ing home for Christ­mas.

the min­is­ter di­rected de­part­ments of im­mi­gra­tion, pass­ports and Na­tional Iden­tity and Civil Registry to re­view our strat­egy in terms of op­er­at­ing hours be­cause of the ex­pected higher vol­ume of traf­fic at the bor­ders. Af­ter that di­rec­tive, we have ex­panded our work­ing hours.

NICR Di­rec­tor Tumelo Rabo­letse.

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