Thousands of Basotho who were granted amnesty this month for illegally working and staying in South Africa could be forced to break the law once again.
Announcing the amnesty and special four-year permits last month, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said the move was aimed at regularizing the stay of eligible Basotho in the neighbouring country.
The permits would be valid from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2020 and applications for the special documents begin in February 2016. Mr Gigaba also said the deportation of undocumented Basotho had been stopped until the end of 2016.
“In October 2015, Cabinet approved the implementation of the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP). The intention of the dispensation is to regularise the stay of Lesotho nationals currently residing illegally in South Africa, some with fraudulently obtained documents, and others abusing the visa waiver between our two countries. The permit will assist greatly in ensuring that all persons in South Africa are here on a lawful basis, with correct documentation, while supporting efforts to better manage labour flows from Southern African Development Community (SADC) states,” said Mr Gigaba.
“The special dispensation is for Lesotho nationals who are working, studying or running businesses in South Africa without appropriate documentation, and have been in the country in such capacity before 30 September 2015.
“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.”
The minister also emphasised that the permit would protect Basotho from exploitation and unnecessary harassment while in South Africa.
“Basotho in the country will enjoy protection from unlawful labour practices, fraud and corruption. This we owe to the people of the SADC region and our neighbour, Lesotho, which historically enjoys close kinship ties with South Africa and its people. It makes no business sense to sustain funding for deportations that can clearly be avoided, with Lesotho being among the four highest countries whose nationals South Africa deports.
“To facilitate the smooth implementation of the special dispensation, we will grant a moratorium on deportations until 31 December 2016 to Lesotho nationals,” the minister announced.
“However, the moratorium will exclude persons with negative police clearance and those who have been released from prison after serving their sentences. An amnesty will be granted to Lesotho nationals who voluntarily surrender fraudulent permits or South African passports and IDs. I wish to take this opportunity to ask Basotho to come forward and surrender these documents to avoid imprisonment, and improve their stay in South Africa”.
To qualify for the special permits, applicants must have valid passports or travel documents; be registered on the Lesotho National Population Register system; have police clearance from Lesotho and South Africa; provide proof of employment and business registration and registration from an educational institution.
But according to Basotho who complied with the offer and returned home hassle-free at the border for the festive season, most of them need to be back in South Africa by this weekend to save their jobs.
The migrants also expressed concern that their passports were inscribed with special red markers by South African immigration officials whose implications they did not know. On the Lesotho side, the migrants’ names were recorded in a book while their passports were not stamped as expected.
A 45-year-old Maseru woman who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity vowed to be back in South Africa by 3 January as this is the date her employer expects her to return. The woman is a housemaid in the North West province.
“I am very happy with what the two governments have done for us. I didn’t experience any difficulties when I crossed the border on my way home for Christmas,” the woman said this week.
“I started working in North West in 2013 after my husband had passed away. It was either I went to look for a job in South Africa or my children were going to starve because there are no jobs here in Lesotho.
“I had last come home in April during the Easter holidays and paid bribes to immigration officials so that I would not be punished. I am happy that this time around I didn’t have to pay anything because of the amnesty.
“However, I am now worried about losing my job if I stay in Lesotho until 1 February when I can be able to submit my application for the special permit.
“My employer is expecting me at work on 3 January and if I don’t go by this date, she will simply look for a replacement,” she said.
“I can’t afford to lose this job, and I don’t think I will wait until February to submit my application and wait for approval. I am leaving this weekend and will come back later to sort out the permit issue.”
Another domestic worker from Qoaling, who is employed in Johannesburg, also said she would be returning to South Africa on 2 January and then return in February for the special permit.
“I have no option but to risk it and go to South Africa on Saturday because if I don’t, I won’t have an income anymore and my family is going to suffer. My documents are ready for the special permit application in February, but I can’t wait until then because it is difficult to get another job once I lose this one,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs has assured the migrants that the red stamp in their passports was not meant to prevent them from crossing into South Africa again.
“It is an identification South Africa is using to keep the statistics of how many Basotho were given amnesty since the exercise started on 11 December 2015,” Mr Relebohile Moyeye said.
Told of Basotho fears that February was too late for them to return to their jobs in South Africa, Mr Moyeye said there was nothing anybody could do as this was what South African laws stipulated.
“What they should do is go back to get all the necessary documentation especially their employment letters which will enable them to apply for the special permits,” Mr Moyeye said, adding the ministry would help eligible Basotho in their applications for the special permits.
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Police to fast-track vetting for SA permits
The police would be hiring additional staff to fast-track vetting for Basotho seeking clearance for special permits to work, study or operate businesses in South Africa.
Applications for the four-year Lesotho Special Permits (LSP) begin on 1 February 2016, and one of the requirements for eligibility is police clearance, which normally takes two months to be issued. But according to police spokesperson Clifford Molefe, the clearance would take less than the two months because of the urgency of the matter.
The permits would be valid from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2020 and seek to regularise the stay of Lesotho nationals who had been living in South Africa illegally.
“The Planning and Design phase commenced this month (November 2015) and will end on 31 January 2016. The first of February 2016 is the targeted date for the official commencement of the LSP Programme, when we will start receiving applications,” noted South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba when announcing the permits and suspension of the deportation of undocumented Basotho from 11 December 2015 to 31 December 2016 as part of the dispensation.
Addressing the media this week, Senior Inspector Molefe said the decision to boost staff was meant to ensure Basotho benefit from the special dispensation.
“The police have taken a decision to help fast-track Basotho’s applications for the LSP.
“You will remember that police clearance is one of the documents needed when applying for the special permits and as the LMPS, we are urging Basotho to file their police clearance applications in their respective districts as soon as possible.
“Police clearance takes time which is why we are urging those who might need it for the LSP to apply now. They don’t need to come to Maseru to do that.”
“We have made arrangements that Basotho working in South Africa applying for police clearance must be given priority as we know that they are going to work and are racing against time.”
According to Senior Inspector Molefe, it takes a minimum of two months for the police clearance to be issued.
“Because we are aware of the urgency of the LSP, we want to ensure that Basotho working in South Africa have the clearance by 1 February when LSP application processes begin,” he said.
The fast-track, he added, was to ensure jobs are not affected because of delays in issuing the clearance.
“The LMPS is going to engage temporary staff as per the Police Act 1998 which gives the Commissioner of Police powers to beef up staff if need arises,” Senior Inspector Molefe said.
“You will remember that it is the police’s duty to prevent crime and by speeding up the clearance, we will be helping them not to commit crime by illegally crossing into South Africa.”
Applicants need to produce a national Identity Document or birth certificate and in the absence of both, they could bring a letter from their respective chiefs confirming their residency, a passport and M100, Senior Inspector Molefe said.