MASERU — Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla has ruled out recalling parliament to deal with the border crisis saying Lesotho should wait for President Jacob Zuma to handle the matter when he visits the country next month.
Lehohla was responding to an appeal by the Lesotho Opposition Parties Forum, an umbrella body for opposition parties, to urgently reconvene parliament to deal with the border crisis.
Parliament is currently in on a three-month winter recess and will only reopen in September.
The South African government in June said it was no longer accepting temporary travel documents and imposed new restrictions at all border entry points.
They also cancelled the issuing of new six-month permits that allowed Basotho to cross into South Africa without having their passports scanned.
The new restrictions created chaos at the Maseru Bridge border post with thousands of migrant Basotho workers failing to return to their jobs in South Africa.
The opposition forum on July 9 wrote to Lehohla, who is the leader of the House, urging him to reconvene parliament to discuss the “inter-border and passport crisis”.
In his response addressed to the co-ordinator of the forum, Majara Molapo, Lehohla said the opposition should wait for Zuma’s impending visit to deal with the matter.
“To answer your substantive request (the reconvening of parliament) I would rather we await the state visit of President Zuma and see what it holds for us, after all it is already upon us,” Lehohla said.
“We will no doubt take full advantage of the impending state visit of President Zuma to our country to further discuss these issues of major concern to us,” Lehohla says.
“We have spared no effort to try and bring this to the attention of the South African authorities and at the same time do what is necessary domestically to put our house in order.”
He said it had taken long to deal with the issue because the South African government was largely occupied with the World Cup tournament which ended two weeks ago.
“Thankfully this (World Cup) is now behind us and we can engage our neighbours in a serious discussion on the matters at hand,” Lehohla says.
But opposition MPs who met on Monday to discuss Lehohla’s response told the Lesotho Times this week that they are not amused by the deputy prime minister’s response.
An opposition MP who was part of the meeting told the Lesotho Times that “we’re planning to take this matter into our own hands”.
“We have resolved to dispatch a delegation composed of opposition MPs to South Africa to meet with the country’s authorities to ascertain what has been happening behind the scenes,” he said.
“We realise that our government has not been upfront with us (on the matter). Because this issue is of national importance, we cannot leave it alone as Lehohla suggested.”
“How can he suggest that we wait for Zuma to provide a solution to our country’s problems? What difference will Zuma’s visit to Lesotho make?” he asked.
“It should be noted that Zuma’s visit and the inter-border crisis are two separate issues and should be treated as such. What will happen if Zuma fails to provide a solution?
“This government is treating this issue like a minor problem. They are trying hard to downplay it. But we plan to make it abundantly clear to Lehohla that we are not in the least amused.”
Molapo declined to comment on the contents of the letter and the MPs’ resolution saying “the matter is still internal”.
“We are not yet ready to go public with the decision we have taken. Any information surrounding Lehohla’s letter is still restricted to opposition party leaders only,” Molapo said.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times on Tuesday, Lehohla insisted it would be unwise to reconvene parliament “without having first spoken to President Zuma”.
“It is no sin to want to first speak to Jacob Zuma about our problems. Issues of governance are very sensitive and should be treated as such,” Lehohla said.
“We need to be patient and discuss with him at length those things that do not sit well with us.”
Lehohla said it worried him that opposition leaders would want to talk to South African authorities “although Zuma will soon be here”.
“I would not recommend that they do it. But then again we understand the fact that they will by right be exercising their freedom of association,” Lehohla said.
“But it should also be noted that for them to approach the South African government would be tantamount to creating two governments within one country.”
Lehohla added that preparations were in motion to have Zuma address the Lesotho parliament so that MPs could raise issues “affecting both countries”.