MASERU — Thousands of Lesotho nationals who hold South African identity documents (IDs) risk being kicked out of South Africa if they don’t renounce their Lesotho citizenship within the next few months.
Those who are in Lesotho but hold South African IDs will also have to decide which citizenship they want to retain or they will
automatically lose their South African IDs.
This is because South Africa’s Citizens Amendment Act of 2010 outlaws dual citizenship for people who come from countries that prohibit dual citizenship.
Lesotho is one such country.
Many thousands of Basotho have continued to hold citizenship of both Lesotho and South Africa in direct contravention of section 41 of Lesotho’s constitution.
Many Basotho have acquired South African IDs in order to easily secure jobs in that country.
The South African Citizens Amendment Act of 2010 was endorsed by President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet in October 2010 but only became effective on January 1, 2013.
Although it will affect people from many other countries its impact will be mostly felt by Basotho who have settled permanently in South Africa by acquiring IDs in that country.
“In terms of dual citizenship, the act ensures that foreign nationals who want to acquire South African citizenship must renounce their original citizenship before the South African citizenship can be conferred upon them,” reads part of the Act.
“This is in situations where the country of origin does not permit dual citizenship.”
Section 41 of the Lesotho constitution states that any person who upon the age of twenty-one years “is a citizen of Lesotho and is also a citizen of some country other than Lesotho shall cease to be a citizen of Lesotho”.
“An individual ceases to be a citizen of Lesotho unless he has renounced his citizenship of that other country, taken an oath of allegiance,” the section says.
“In the case of a person who is a citizen of Lesotho by descent, he should have made and registered such declaration of his intention concerning residence as may be prescribed by parliament.”
The constitution further states that if a citizen of Lesotho, having attained the age of twenty-one years and acquires citizenship of some other country by voluntary act rather than marriage “shall cease to be a Mosotho”.
This paper understands South Africa’s home affairs department informed Lesotho’s home affairs ministry of the planned changes in a meeting held in December last year.
Sources privy to the details of that meeting told the Lesotho Times that the South African government told the Lesotho officials that they will start implementing the new law in April this year.
Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo admitted that his ministry was briefed of South Africa’s plans.
He was however quick to point out that this was in “an informal meeting and not government to government”.
“Because it was communicated casually, we wrote a letter to the South African government seeking a straight answer and we await a response. It’s clear South Africa has its own plans,” Molapo said.
Molapo told the Lesotho Times that while waiting for a response from South Africa, the Lesotho government is not going to allow Basotho to be expelled from South Africa.
He said the government was already considering options to deal with the looming crisis “for the benefit of Basotho”.
“What we’re not going to do is sit around and do nothing because we’ll be risking Basotho losing their jobs,” Molapo said.
“If we do nothing, it’s a dangerous situation for Basotho.”
Asked if the coalition government was prepared to repeal the dual citizenship clause in the constitution, Molapo said they would “do anything within reason to help Basotho”. “Repealing the dual citizenship clause is one of the options on the table. We’ll do everything within reason to help Basotho so that they don’t lose their jobs,” Molapo said.
Molapo said shying away from amending the constitution was not an option.
“We cannot say we cannot do anything about it simply because it is in the constitution. It’s probably an outdated law which served a purpose at the time it was made,” Molapo said.
Molapo added that manifestos of the three political parties driving the coalition government, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP) “all address the dual citizenship issue”.
“The BNP, ABC and LCD all have a similar political understanding regarding dual citizenship,” Molapo said.