…as thou­sands face ar­rests, de­por­ta­tions over spe­cial per­mits

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - ’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Le­sotho gov­ern­ment is mak­ing fran­tic ef­forts to en­gage South Africa to try and avert a po­ten­tial cri­sis in which hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ba­sotho face ar­rests, de­por­ta­tions and job­less­ness after they failed to se­cure the Le­sotho Spe­cial Per­mit (LSP) to en­able them to re­side and work legally in the neigh­bour­ing coun­try.

The four-year LSP was in­tro­duced in 2015 to en­able qual­i­fy­ing Ba­sotho to law­fully work, study or do busi­ness in South Africa.

The ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tion process for the per­mit be­gan in March 2016 and was due to end in June 2016. There have been three ex­ten­sions since then, cul­mi­nat­ing in the fi­nal ex­ten­sion to 31 March 2017 for all ap­pli­ca­tions.

A South African Home Af­fairs re­port is­sued in Oc­to­ber 2017 said that 194 941 LSP ap­pli­ca­tions were re­ceived out of an es­ti­mated 400 000 Ba­sotho be­lieved to be in South Africa.

“Out of these, about 90,225 were ap­proved, 3 582 re­jected,” the re­port stated.

“Of the ad­ju­di­cated cases 6 735 ap­pli­ca­tions were still await­ing col­lec­tion at the VFS fol­low­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion via sms ad­vis­ing ap­pli­cants of the sta­tus of their ap­pli­ca­tions and readi­ness for col­lec­tion which ought to be com­pleted by 31 Oc­to­ber 2017.”

De­spite the ex­piry of the dead­line for col­lec­tion, at least 6700 Ba­sotho had not col­lected their spe­cial per­mits which were ready by mid-2017 de­spite sev­eral ap­peals to them to do so.

Al­though 90 225 ap­pli­ca­tions were ap­proved, the fig­ure is a drop in the ocean as it rep­re­sents less than a quar­ter of the 400 000 Ba­sotho es­ti­mated by the South African gov­ern­ment to be liv­ing within its bor­ders.

Even though most of those who ap­plied suc­ceeded in get­ting the LSP, more than 300 000 Ba­sotho liv­ing in South Africa seem not to have both­ered to ap­ply and now risk be­ing ar­rested and de­ported from that coun­try after a mora­to­rium of such de­por­ta­tions ex­pired on 31 De­cem­ber 2017.

South Africa’s then Min­is­ter of Home Af­fairs Malusi Gi­gaba had al­ready vowed that his gov­ern­ment would en­force de­por­ta­tions upon the ex­piry of the mora­to­rium as Africa’s sec­ond largest and most so­phis­ti­cated econ­omy seeks to stem off the tide of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion into its bor­ders.

A sim­i­lar per­mit was granted to hordes of Zim­bab­weans who fled po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic tur­moil in their coun­try to South Africa. Those Zim­bab­weans who did not ap­ply for the per­mit to reg­u­larise their stay or failed to qual­ify were de­ported once the process was over.

Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter, Tsukut­lane Au, said the gov­ern­ment had since re­quested an ap­point­ment with South Africa to ad­dress the highly emo­tive is­sue of the LSP.

“I have en­gaged the Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs and asked that they make an ur­gent ap­point­ment with our coun­ter­parts as this mat­ter needs to be ad­dressed with ur­gency.

“South Africa had al­ready agreed to meet us in Fe­bru­ary but we would re­ally like it to be ear­lier than that,” Mr Au said.

Though the min­is­ter was not at lib­erty to dis­cuss the de­tails of what he would present at the meet­ing, the Le­sotho Times is re­li­ably in­formed that the gov­ern­ment would want a new ex­ten­sion to en­able those who did not ap­ply to do so. It also wants to dis­cour­age any de­por­ta­tions of Ba­sotho after the mora­to­rium ex­pired.

Last Oc­to­ber, Min­istry of Home Af­fairs Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary, Mach­a­bana Lem­phane Let­sie, told this pub­li­ca­tion that the gov­ern­ment would en­gage their South African coun­ter­parts to re-open the LSP ap­pli­ca­tions to cater for those who did not ap­ply.

“Not ev­ery Mosotho’s ap­pli­ca­tion was suc­cess­ful there­fore such peo­ple are still with­out per­mits. “Another case is of those who started stay­ing in South Africa after 30 Septem­ber 2015. These were not given the op­por­tu­nity so we are ne­go­ti­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment of South Africa to of­fer them the op­por­tu­nity as well,” Ms Let­sie said.

Tem­pers flared at the South African High Com­mis­sion of­fices in Maseru on Thurs­day as some of the Ba­sotho, whose ap­pli­ca­tions were ap­proved, tried to col­lect their per­mits but found the process ex­tremely slow. They broke into song and dance and sub­se­quently at­tempted to over-power se­cu­rity de­tails to en­ter the em­bassy premises and reg­is­ter their con­cerns.

Se­cu­rity de­tails at the em­bassy then sought in­ter­ven­tion of em­bassy staff and the Le­sotho Mounted Po­lice Ser­vice LMPS.

It was even­tu­ally re­solved that the per­mits be re­turned to their re­spec­tive sta­tions in South Africa where the ap­pli­ca­tions were made. Ba­sotho would then have up to 30 days to col­lect the per­mits at the point of ap­pli­ca­tion and reg­u­larise their stay in SA.

Those who fail to col­lect within the stip­u­lated 30 day pe­riod will be de­ported along­side those whose ap­pli­ca­tions were re­jected and those who never ap­plied at all.

Com­ment­ing on the Thurs­day com­mo­tion, the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Iden­tity and Civil Registry Tumelo Rabo­letsi said Le­sotho had ini­tially agreed with South Africa to have Ba­sotho col­lect their per­mits at the High Com­mis­sion in Maseru but this had been scut­tled by rowdy peo­ple who were too im­pa­tient to wait for their turn to be served.

Mahlatholle Madiba, the First Sec­re­tary (im­mi­gra­tion and Civic Ser­vices) at the South African High Com­mis­sion, echoed Mr Rabo­letsi, say­ing, “Fol­low­ing the fra­cas at our gates, the dis­patch process was not pos­si­ble and we were forced to take the per­mits back to the of­fices where they were ap­plied for in South Africa”.

“The ap­pli­cants must now go and col­lect them there.

“We also en­gaged our gov­ern­ment to al­low those with re­ceipts back into South Africa so that they can col­lect their per­mits.

“But be­yond the 30 days granted they shall have to face the con­se­quences (if they have not col­lected the per­mits) and there is noth­ing we can do about that be­cause they have al­ways known about the im­por­tance of the LSP,” Mr Madiba said.

The sit­u­a­tion is more omi­nous nonethe­less for those who did not ap­ply for the per­mits at all.

Ba­sotho work­ing and liv­ing il­le­gally in South Africa were handed a life­line through the in­tro­duc­tion of the LSP. It is not clear why so many failed to ap­ply.

How­ever, Re­filoe Kolobe, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Moko­rotlo oa Ba­sotho as­so­ci­a­tion which ad­vo­cates for the rights and wel­fare of Ba­sotho liv­ing in South Africa, said the ap­pli­ca­tion process was “bun­gled” from the on­set and the ap­pli­ca­tion fees were too high.

Mr Kolbe’s said his as­so­ci­a­tion took is­sue with the ser­vice fee of M970 re­quired for each LSP ap­pli­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to him, this is one rea­son why so few ap­plied as many Ba­sotho who are eco­nomic mi­grants to South Africa could hardly af­ford it. . “We have had chal­lenges from the be­gin­ning and no one ever men­tioned any­thing about peo­ple hav­ing to pay for the ser­vice fee of M970 even after ap­pli­ca­tions are re­jected,” charged Mr Kolobe. How­ever, the ser­vice fees are stated on the web­site of VSF global, the agent for South Africa’s Min­istry of Home Af­fairs through whom some of the ap­pli­ca­tions are pro­cessed. Mr Kolobe said M970 97 was a lot of money y to ex­pect from Ba­sotho who are ei­ther un­em­ployed or, if em­ployed, are earn­ing “star­va­tion” wages in South Africa be­cause of ex­ploita­tive bosses known to un­der­pay un­doc­u­mented mi­grants.

Long queues of Ba­sotho seek­ing to re­turn to South Africa con­tinue to be a cim­mon fea­ture at the Maseru Bor­der post since the end of the fes­tive sea­son

Some of the Ba­sotho na­tion­als who thronged the South African High Com­mis­sion of­fice in maseru to col­lect the Spe­cial Per­mits.

Home Af­fairs min­is­ter Tsukut­lane Au.

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