New era in cross border movement

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South African Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba , with Lesotho Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane on Tuesday at the Maseru Border

South African Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba , with Lesotho Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane on Tuesday at the Maseru Border

. . .as SA minister announces Lesotho Special Dispensation

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

SOUTH African Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba on Tuesday announced a raft of measures to regularise the stay of Basotho in the neighbouring country illegally and to simplify cross border movement.

Addressing a press briefing in Maseru at the end of a two-day working trip in which he also held bilateral talks with his Lesotho counterpart, Lekhetho Rakuoane, Mr Gigaba said his department would soon introduce the Lesotho Special Dispensation to regularise the status of undocumented Basotho in South Africa. Under the dispensation, which is set for implementation next year, Basotho would be given special permits for work, business and study purposes.

He said the dispensation follows the roll-out of a similar facility for Zimbabweans whose stay in South Africa had been regularised since 2009.

The deportation of illegal Basotho migrants, Mr Gigaba said, would also be suspended under the new facility.

The announcement will come as a relief to many Basotho who have borne the brunt of Pretoria’s crackdown against immigrants continually flocking to the economic powerhouse without the necessary documentation.

After being rounded up by the South African police, illegal Basotho migrants are usually taken to holding centers for vetting before being dumped at the Maseru Bridge Border Post.

However, the minister said the new dispensation was meant to enhance historical relations between the two countries, adding that South Africa and Lesotho shared a “common destiny”.

“South Africa and Lesotho enjoy a special and unique relationship. The two countries share internal borders all round,” said Mr Gigaba. “Therefore, it is necessary for us that we should, to the greatest extent possible, find mechanisms and ways to ease the movement of people between our two countries, and at the same time ensure we manage and mitigate the risks that are involved in the movement of people.

“This is because the world in which we live has become much more dynamic and complex, requiring countries to take proactive measures to protect their national territory while, at the same time, ensuring the free movement of people.”

The minister said the deliberations he held with the government of Lesotho were fruitful resulting in mutually beneficial outcomes.

“In cooperation with our Lesotho counterparts, we are poised to move with speed in this regard and expect no major hassles especially after securing the support of the government of Lesotho and meeting His Excellency Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili yesterday as well as nine members of the government of the Kingdom to consult with them on these measures,” Mr Gigaba said.

“I must indicate that the measures that we are looking at will benefit not only the people of our respective countries, but our respective economies and security as well.

“Building on the success of the Zimbabwean special permits project, we have taken a step to regularise the stay of Basotho who are in South Africa by offering them special permits.

He said the bilateral mechanisms for implementing the new dispensation “earmarked for early next year” were being worked out.

“The details of the Lesotho Special Dispensation that will legalise and ease Basotho’s stay for work, business or study in South Africa, will be announced soon once I have undertaken necessary consultations with my cabinet colleagues in the Republic of South Africa.”

Mr Gigaba said the moratorium on the deportation of Lesotho nationals would be effected “soon”, adding that amnesty would also apply to those who fraudulently obtained South African identity and travel documents “when they own up”.

“Upon returning those fraudulent documents and declaring them, we will then indemnify them from any prosecution,” he said.

“I believe this is a good decision for trade, investment and development in the region and for strengthening relations among states. The dispensation is also meant to ensure that traveling for Basotho to and from South Africa is a lot easier and safe.”

The minister said they would also introduce a cross border movement system, in the last quarter of 2015, whereby passports are only scanned and not stamped.

“This facility will particularly benefit frequent travelers who often have to apply for new passports because they get full very quickly. In this regard, the scanning of passports, instead of stamping, will be implemented in the short term,” said Mr Gigaba.

“This measure is meant to ensure free movement and to ease the administrative burdens on travelers in general. In part, the Kingdom of Lesotho had responded to this by increasing their passport pages from 32 to 64.”

To ensure security is not compromised in the cross border movement, he said the two countries would collaborate in capturing and storing of information.

“We will soon be piloting biometric capture on our ports of entry to ease the movement of people between their countries and South Africa while also providing South Africa with the necessary guarantees that the travelers are who they claim to be since we would have their records in our system,” Mr Gigaba said.

“We are currently holding discussions about sharing our databases since it is integral to the success of these initiatives.”

The minister said “necessary steps” had been taken to improve the security of both countries’ passport documents.

Said Mr Gigaba: “Work is ongoing in the Kingdom of Lesotho to document, in the civic registration programme, all the nationals so that we can have certainty about the identities of the people in possession of the passports.”

He said a special study visa arrangement for Lesotho learners and students studying in South Africa would also be implemented in time for the start of the 2016 school calendar year.

“We also want to ease the administrative burden on children who commute daily to South Africa, targeting the new school year,” said the minister.

“Requirements in this regard would be a machine-readable valid passport, letter of admission from the school the child is attending, an abridged birth certificate as well as letters of consent from parents. That would indicate to us who the child is.

“Obviously, the children will still have to apply for study visas and the parents, when they apply for such visas, will still have to provide an abridged birth certificate for their child. This is a requirement in South Africa’s education system not only for foreign children but also for South African children.

“For the medium- to long-term, we have begun thorough assessments of the Trusted Traveler Programme, which will completely rectify the movement challenges between Lesotho and South Africa.”

The Trusted Traveler Programme allows expedited clearance for pre- approved and low-risk travelers.

Mr Gigaba also revealed that the Maseru Bridge was among a list of six key ports of entry earmarked for revamping.

“These ports of entry, in the way that they presently are, physically and in terms of the systems, are no longer adequate to serve the commercial and commuter needs of the peoples of the region,” he said.

“They also can no longer serve the economic interests of South Africa itself. There is high congestion during peak periods and the work flow is not mainstreamed.

“That is why the department had advertised for the position of a transaction advisor who would then develop a complete infrastructure plan for these ports of entry so that we can revamp them to facilitate better movement, trade activities and mitigate risks which are often caused by trafficking of persons, goods et cetera.”

On his part, Advocate Rakuoane said he was heartened that the issue of cross border movement was finally being resolved since it was a sore point for many Basotho.

“As government, we have addressed an issue that has been of great concern to Basotho for a long time,” he said.

“Basotho have been calling on South Africa to ease its stringent immigration conditions and overhaul the current dispensation. The government of Lesotho seeks to enhance relations between the two countries for mutual benefit.”

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