Liv­ing on the mar­gins

. . . the mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence of Ba­sotho in South Africa

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - John Aerni-fless­ner

SOUTH African Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba claimed that up to 400 000 Ba­sotho might be af­fected by a pro­gramme which would al­low the gov­ern­ment of South Africa to bet­ter know, reg­u­late, and, per­haps most im­por­tant, tax those liv­ing within its bound­aries.

Ba­sotho tak­ing up the of­fer would get le­gal pa­pers to al­low for bor­der cross­ing as well as le­gal pro­tec­tions on the job and in their daily lives. The reg­u­lar­i­sa­tion, which in­cludes an amnesty for hav­ing forged doc­u­ments, is re­mark­ably gen­er­ous and runs counter to global sen­ti­ment to­wards mi­grants and mi­gra­tion. Whether the of­fer is one that Ba­sotho will take up in large num­bers is, how­ever, an open ques­tion. Mi­grants, in many cases right­fully so, have deep sus­pi­cions of the mo­tives of gov­ern­ments on both sides of the bor­der, as well as wor­ries about what their sta­tus will be when the spe­cial per­mit pe­riod ends.

There have been de­lays in im­ple­men­ta­tion, so the ap­pli­ca­tion process only opened on 1 March 2016. Is­su­ing the per­mits has also been slow with only 117 “spe­cial per­mits” is­sued out of a pal­try 5 460 Ba­sotho ap­pli­cants, as of 10 May 2016.

This small num­ber of ap­pli­cants sug­gests wide­spread fear and worry about reg­u­lar­i­sa­tion among Ba­sotho, a re­ac­tion to the stiff R970 ap­pli­ca­tion fee and a gen­eral lack of in­for­ma­tion, es­pe­cially for Ba­sotho who lack reg­u­lar ac­cess to the in­ter­net. There is also mis­in­for­ma­tion be­ing put forth by those whose liveli­hoods are threat­ened by the reg­u­lar­i­sa­tion — those who help Ba­sotho il­le­gally cross the bor­der.

Lerato, a Mosotho who has ap­plied for a per­mit noted that the “thugs at the bor­der” are mak­ing sure peo­ple are “sub­jected to bad in­for­ma­tion” be­cause they “don’t want to see the process suc­ceed” be­cause of the threat to their source of in­come.

Com­bat­ing this bar­rage of mis­in­for­ma­tion is a pro­mo­tional ef­fort spear­headed by Mr Gi­gaba on so­cial me­dia, in the news­pa­pers, and on the ra­dio. The high­est ech­e­lons of the Pre­to­ria regime are seem­ingly in­vested in mak­ing this per­mit­ting process a suc­cess. Work­ing against this, how­ever, is deep mis­trust in gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials on both sides of the bor­der be­cause of the long legacy of apartheid, re­cent re­cur­ring de­por­ta­tions of Ba­sotho from South Africa, and mis­man­age­ment within the Le­sotho gov­ern­ment.

The po­ten­tial ben­e­fits for Ba­sotho are im­mense. As ap­pli­cant Lerato noted, this was a bril­liant op­por­tu­nity for her to “get a proper pay­ing job with my proper doc­u­ments”. Groups sup­port­ing the plan also sug­gest that suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion might re­duce hu­man traf­fick­ing in the re­gion. These are all po­ten­tially wel­come out­comes in a re­gion where the need to re­form bor­der pol­icy has been long recog­nised.

Bor­ders and bor­der cross­ing are, of course, not just prob­lem­atic in south­ern Africa. Across the globe, refugees and eco­nomic mi­grants are sub­jects of in­tense po­lit­i­cal dis­pute.

South Africa is at the fore­front of re­gional ef­forts to reg­u­larise rather than de­monise mi­grants through this ar­range­ment with Le­sotho, a sim­i­lar ef­fort to le­gal­is­ing Zim­bab­weans who fled in large num­bers to South Africa af­ter the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal col­lapse of the coun­try of the mid-2000s. The spe­cial per­mit process for Zim­bab­weans had mixed re­sults, par­tially be­cause many of the mi­grants hoped to even­tu­ally re­turn to Zim­babwe when the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion sta­bilised.

Omi­nously for Ba­sotho con­sid­er­ing tak­ing up South Africa’s of­fer, de­por­ta­tions be­gan again al­most as soon as the pro­gramme ended, hin- de­r­ing peo­ple from trust­ing that spe­cial per­mits of­fered long-term solutions to their in­sta­bil­ity.

While Zim­bab­weans his­tor­i­cally came to South Africa in rel­a­tively large num­bers, their mi­gra­tion paled in com­par­i­son to the cen­tral place that labour mi­gra­tion to South Africa has played in the lives of Ba­sotho from Le­sotho.

The bor­der is an ever-present fea­ture of life for most Ba­sotho, and cross­ing for shop­ping, vis­it­ing, and ac­cess­ing health ser­vices is com­mon. Bor­der posts be­tween Le­sotho and South Africa ac­counted for 40 per­cent of the to­tal ar­rivals into South Africa in re­cent years.

Dur­ing the apartheid era up to half of the gold and di­a­mond min­ers (100 000+ in some years) came from Le­sotho, and the cul­ture of many ur­ban town­ships in South Africa was dom­i­nated by sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of Ba­sotho mi­grants. In many ways, the cul­ture of Le­sotho is haunted by, but also built upon a his­tory of mi­gra­tion. The re­mit­tances from mi­grants, le­gal and oth­er­wise, also played and con­tinue to play a cru­cial role in prop­ping up the Le­sotho econ­omy, es­pe­cially for those from the ru­ral ar­eas.

The reg­u­lar­i­sa­tion pro­gramme holds the po­ten­tial to sig­nif­i­cantly al­ter the mi­gra­tion par­a­digm from Le­sotho to South Africa, and tan­ta­lis­ingly sug­gests the po­ten­tial for a new un­der­stand­ing of transna­tional be­long­ing if it does suc­ceed in bring­ing peo­ple out of the shad­ows. It of­fers, for the first time, the pos­si­bil­ity of a le­gal sta­tus in both coun­tries for transna­tional mi­grants.

In a world where lead­ers are los­ing their jobs for not be­ing strict enough with mi­grant ar­rivals, this is in­deed a hope­ful pos­si­bil­ity – and the sup­port from the high­est ech­e­lons of the ANC gov­ern­ment is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment. The ul­ti­mate suc­cess or fail­ure of the pro­gramme, how­ever, will hinge on whether mi­grants come to be­lieve that a spe­cial per­mit will im­prove their lives in the short and long-term.

Were this to come to pass, the pro­gramme could con­ceiv­ably be­come a global model for how to in­te­grate mi­grants. Or, in eco­nomic terms, it could mark a path­way to reg­u­larise a freer flow of labour across bor­ders to match the (rel­a­tively) freer flows of cap­i­tal and goods across bor­ders that cur­rently pre­vail in the SADC re­gion.

The in­for­ma­tional cam­paign still has a ways to go in reach­ing sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of Ba­sotho, but the lack of trust will be harder to sur­mount. More than half the pop­u­la­tion of Le­sotho are dis­sat­is­fied with their own gov­ern­ment, and mi­grants have al­ready, in many cases, voted with their feet as a re­sponse to the deep­en­ing eco­nomic prob­lems in Le­sotho.

Com­ing out of the shad­ows in South Africa poses the risk of de­por­ta­tion, and con­vinc­ing mi­grants that the pro­gramme of­fers more ben­e­fits than risks is a hard sell to those who al­ready feel marginalised in both coun­tries. While the process for Ba­sotho may play out sim­i­larly to the Zim­bab­wean ex­pe­ri­ence — a rush to ap­ply right at the dead­line — this is not guar­an­teed be­cause of the dif­fer­ent his­to­ries of mi­gra­tion from Zim­babwe and Le­sotho. Judg­ing by the first set of num­bers re­leased this week, the South African and Le­sotho gov­ern­ments have a long way to go in build­ing the req­ui­site trust to bring peo­ple out of the shad­ows. l Aerni-fless­ner is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of African His­tory whose work fo­cuses on 20th cen­tury Le­sotho.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.