Govt in frantic efforts to engage SA

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…as thousands face arrests, deportations over special permits 

’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 was a lot of money 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.

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