The South African government yesterday announced a four-your special permit for Basotho who want to work, study and operate businesses in the neighbouring country.
The permit would be valid from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2020 and seeks to regularise the stay of Lesotho nationals currently residing illegally in South Africa, according to a statement issued by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.
Mr Gigaba also said application for the special document begins in February next year, adding the deportation of undocumented Basotho had been stopped until the end of next year.
“In October 2015, Cabinet approved the implementation of the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP). The intention of the Lesotho dispensation is to regularise the stay of Lesotho nationals currently residing illegally in South Africa, some with fraudulently obtained SA 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 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 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,” he said.
“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.”
The special permits would also “ease pressure exerted on the country’s Refugee Reception Offices, dealing with a mixed flow of migrants, including of an economic nature,” Mr Gigaba added.
The minister further noted: “This approach is, therefore, helping in separating economic migrants from asylum-seekers and refugees. The benefits should include enhanced refugee-management and refugee-protection.
“Already, we have undertaken key actions for operational readiness. The LSP project is led essentially by the same permitting team that delivered the Zimbabwe Special Permit Programme. Importantly, this dispensation is undertaken as a joint programme entailing cooperation of the South African and Lesotho governments.”
According to Mr Gigaba, inter-ministerial meetings on the issue took place over the past three months, resulting in the formation of a task-team to oversee the process.
“The Planning and Design phase commenced this month 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,” Mr Gigaba noted.
“Formal announcements on the volumes and process to follow will be made once all consultations with the Lesotho authorities and relevant stakeholders have been completed. The special permit will be valid for four years, from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2020.”
According to Mr Gigaba, the deportation of Basotho living illegally in South Africa had been stopped until the end of next year. An amnesty would also be given to Basotho who surrender their illegally acquired South African passports and identity documents (IDs).
“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 permit, an applicant must have a valid passport or travel document; 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.
However, the minister also said the special permit does not grant the holder the right to apply for permanent residence.
Women, children and people with disability would be assisted to apply, he added.
“Today being the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, until 10 December 2015, I invite you to be active participants in this campaign for human rights for all.
“How we treat our people from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and elsewhere in the region and continent, especially the most vulnerable among us – the women and children – says much about us as a nation that cherishes democracy, equality and justice for all of humankind,” the minister said.
“Regularising the stay of Zimbabwean and Basotho women who offer various services in diverse sectors of the economy, does much to advance their protection and enjoyment of inalienable rights, including the right to life and dignity. It is our goal as a democratic state through laws like the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act as well as our immigration laws, to fight uncompromisingly the trafficking of young girls and women. Together we can end the cycle of abuse in all its forms.”
Commenting on the special dispensation, the Vice-Consul of Lesotho in Johannesburg, Tumisang Mokoai, said the move was “a milestone for Lesotho” and needed to be embraced “with gratitude”.
“This is too good to be true, and we appeal to all our people to go the legitimate route and do the right thing. They should render the illegal documents as asked by the minister and take this as a second chance to start over their lives,” Mr Mokoai said.