Protest looms over border chaos

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MASERU — Lesotho’s civic groups say they will stage protests at the South Africa High Commission office in Maseru if South Africa does not lift the stringent control measures it has put at its borders with Lesotho.

The civic groups this week said the protests were meant to coincide with the 2010 World Cup kick-off tomorrow afternoon.

South Africa introduced border control measures barring people with temporary travel documents from entering the country on Sunday.

Six months permits have also been suspended.

Hundreds of Basotho have been turned away at the border since last week, triggering massive congestion at Lesotho’s 14 border posts with South Africa.

Professionals who live in South Africa but work in Lesotho have also endured long hours of waiting in the queue to get their passports stamped after their six-months permits were abruptly cancelled last week.

The Lesotho government this week said the control measures were implemented without consultation between the two countries.

Lesotho government officials have said diplomatic efforts are underway to resolve the problem.

But the Lesotho Council of NGOs, a coalition of NGOs this week said it will take the South African government head-on with a protest tomorrow to force it to accept the temporary travel documents and reinstate the six-month permit arrangement.

They will picket at the South African High Commission offices in Maseru West until South Africa deals with the chaos at the border, they said.

“Failure of the South African government to act immediately, the official opening ceremony of the tournament shall be met with protest in the grounds of South African High Commission right at the time of the celebrations,” LCN said in a statement issued on Monday.

LCN also said the government of Lesotho “should come out clearly and address the nation on its position towards South African government decision”.

Government spokesperson and Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing told the Lesotho Times in an interview South Africa’s decision was arbitrary.

“The government was unaware that South Africa was planning to abruptly stop the use of the six-month permits,” Metsing said.

He said although the South African government had informed Lesotho about the suspension of the temporary travel document that decision was “made at short notice”.

“At least, as regards the stopping of travel documents, we were told — although it was at very short notice,” Metsing said.

“As for the stopping of ‘six months’ the government of Lesotho was taken by surprise.”

Metsing said Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla was yesterday scheduled to meet his South African counterpart Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma about the issue.

He said the last time Lehohla and Dlamini-Zuma were supposed to have discussions Dlamini-Zuma had an urgent meeting in Cape Town and the meeting was postponed.

“The use of the temporary travel documents was stopped after the government of Lesotho had spent a lot of money producing the new ones that had security features.”

With the Lesotho government struggling to clear a backlog of passport applications that have accumulated to an estimated 200 000 over the past three years, many Basotho had resorted to the temporary travel documents.

Small-time traders who restock in South African shops have also been hit hard.

Businesses that import almost all their products from South Africa have been affected as well.

So too have Basotho children who attend school in South Africa’s border towns with Lesotho.

Basotho on transit to other regional countries are among the thousands who have been affected.

When the Lesotho Times visited the Maseru border gate on Tuesday long queues of people and vehicles had almost caused a traffic jam at the Lesotho side of the border.

Some drivers opted to drive back to Maseru.

Some people said they had spent as much as five hours in the queue.

One of those who left was Thabang Kolitsoe, a driver for a Chinese-owned supermarket that stocks from Bloemfontein.

“I can’t wait in this long queue anymore,” Kolitsoe complained.

Mohau Kobile who owns a shop in Motimposo said it took him over four hours to have his passport stamped when he went to South Africa to buy stock on Monday.

“I came back at around 11pm at night but when I left the border gate it was at 6am.”

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