MASERU — South Africa will with effect from today only grant six-month travel permits to Lesotho citizens classified as frequent travellers to the neigbouring country.
The country’s home affairs ministry announced last Friday that South Africa had resolved to withdraw all six-month travel permits held by Lesotho citizens and issue new ones with effect from July 1.
A senior home affairs ministry official in the Free State province, Bonakele Mayekiso, said on Tuesday the move was meant to vet Lesotho citizens in possession of the travel permit.
“It came to our attention that people who are not supposed to be in possession of the six-month travel permit were entering and exiting South Africa as they pleased,” Mayekiso said.
He said the bottle-neck move was meant to ensure that only suitable citizens qualified for the important travel permit.
“It was wrong. It was not supposed to happen because the permit was meant only for frequent travellers who conduct business in South Africa on a daily or weekly basis,” he said.
Mayekiso told the Lesotho Times that new technology had been installed at the Maseru Bridge border post to help South Africa identify and monitor frequent travellers from Lesotho.
“It will enable us to monitor people’s movements and determine how often they conduct business in South Africa and if they are eligible for the six-month travel permit,” he said.
He said the immigration department had already started monitoring and classifying travellers entering South Africa from Lesotho
“Previously we had no statistics of who deserved the permit and who did not. But the introduction of the scanning system is already putting things into perspective.”
Under the new system only Lesotho citizens classified in South Africa’s immigration department database as frequent travellers would be granted six-month permits, he said.
Thousands of Basotho working or studying in South Africa using the six-month permits will be affected as their permits are not likely to be renewed.
The South African government suspended the six-month travel permits used by Lesotho citizens in early June citing security reasons.
The Lesotho government was also compelled to stop issuing temporary travel documents after they were rejected by South Africa as a means of entry into the country.
An alternative temporary travel document provided by the Lesotho government was also rejected by South African authorities on the basis that it did not meet the required security standards.
Scores of Basotho have been known to use the six-month permits to study, work or reside in South Africa.
When the two governments entered into the six-month concession under section (24) (1) of South Africa’s Immigration Amendment Act 2004, it was solely for the purpose of allowing frequent Lesotho travellers doing daily business in South Africa easy access into the country.
“It was also to avoid keeping people on business in winding queues to get their passports stamped. It was also to save their passport pages from running out due to being stamped frequently,” Mayekiso said.
South African authorities say Lesotho citizens took advantage of the provision and ended up using the permit for wrong purposes.
A Lesotho immigration department official who spoke to this paper on condition that he was not named yesterday said home affairs ministry officials were in a state of panic as a result of last week’s announcement.
“They have been in a meeting since morning discussing the problem. They are worried.
“If passports are going to be stamped every time someone crosses into South Africa, it means they will run out of pages before their expiry date.
“This will create more problems as we already have a serious passport backlog,” he said.
However, home affairs ministry director, Mats’eliso Ramathe, denied any knowledge of the new law being implemented starting today.
“We are aware of the issues surrounding the six-month permit. South Africa has actually explained everything to us,” Ramathe said.
“But we have been assured that whatever measures the country decides to take will only be implemented after the World Cup tournament.”
Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla last week told the Lesotho Times that the border crisis was a problem that needed “to be dealt with urgently”.
Lehohla shocked the nation last month when he admitted that he had been “stupid” when he failed to realise the scale of the passport crisis.
Lehohla who is also the country’s deputy prime minister has accused corrupt and lazy civil servants in his ministry of not doing enough to process passports for thousands who need them.