Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) members blocked the Maseru border post yesterday to protest their harassment by the police once their taxis cross into South Africa.
The operators and drivers also said their protest was meant to force the Lesotho government into acting on their complaints and ensure they are not harassed once they ferry passengers into South Africa.
Trouble started when three taxis were crossing into South Africa at around 9am but were stopped by South African cross-border agents who said they wanted to check their permits.
According to MRTO member Thabiso Letsie, the taxis were denied entry into South Africa after the agents claimed the permits needed some “corrections”.
“The three taxis were crossing to South Africa when they were stopped by the cross-border agents who asked to see their permits. The agents pointed out that the permits needed some corrections, and we rushed to the Department of Transport for the corrections. When we came back, we were now crossing with four taxis, but when we got to the South African border gate, we met the agents, as well as members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and South African National Defence Force.
“We produced the four permits with the corrections and gave them to the agents. But while we were still talking, the Manyatseng Taxi Operators from the Free State came and started insulting us in the presence of the police.
“SAPS members did nothing to protect us from those people, and instead, demanded to search us, our taxis and passengers. After verifying that we didn’t have any weapons, they told us that we could proceed into South Africa at our own risk. They told us that they would not be responsible if anything happened to us.
“We realised that they meant what they were saying as we were insulted and threatened in their presence by the Manyatseng Taxi Operators. We decided to come back to Lesotho as we could not risk our lives. But instead of coming all the way, we decided to park our cars here and blockade the border until our government intervenes and resolves this issue which has been raging for so long.”
MRTO spokesperson Lebohang Moea said they would not leave the bridge until government resolves the issue. However, despite the border being blocked from around 10am, no government officials had visited the post to engage the operators, Mr Moea said.
“We will not leave this place until the government has resolved this issue. We have done this before and only left after government officials promised to resolve the issue but it never happened. This time, we are closing this border until further notice.
“Pedestrians from Lesotho will not be allowed to cross to South Africa but pedestrians from South Africa will be allowed to enter the country. Private vehicles from both countries and trucks that deliver goods will also not be allowed to pass.”
One of the pedestrians who was stranded at the border after being refused to cross into South Africa by the MRTO members said: “This is not fair because this fight is now affecting us innocent passengers. The government has to resolve this matter now because it affects us as passengers. We had spent most of our monies and only saved taxi fare from Maseru to my destination in Gauteng. Going to another border-gate which has not been blockaded means I have to spend more money and I don’t have it,” she said.
Another pedestrian pleaded with the government to resolve the dispute as it affected the country’s economy.
“I am going back to my workplace in South Africa and if I lose my job, I will increase the number of unemployed Basotho. Some people stranded here are going for medical check-ups in South Africa but can’t cross the border because of this cross-border taxi war. They might die here if the situation remains like this,” he said.
A businessman who was travelling to South Africa said the blockade had affected his enterprise.
“Trucks which were supposed to bring imports into the country are stuck across the border as they are not being allowed to pass by the taxi operators, and the same goes for those intending to leave Lesotho. This is creating an unnecessary inconvenience and both the South African and Lesotho governments should address the issue,” he said.
Contacted for comment, police spokesperson Clifford Molefe said: “The matter is still being addressed by the relevant authorities so I cannot comment.”