TOO often we hear Basotho grumbling about the presence of Chinese nationals in Lesotho.
They often accuse them of taking their businesses.
This is because many small businesses such as supermarkets are now being run by the Chinese.
Even when you go to remote corners of Lesotho you will find the Chinese in charge of some small shop.
In addition, there is a widespread feeling that some of these Chinese are in Lesotho illegally.
They only legalise their stay when they are already in the country.
A similar situation prevails in South Africa in relation to Basotho. Many Basotho from Lesotho are working as domestic workers, gardeners, taxi drivers, cattle herders, street vendors, with some even venturing into illegal mining activities and many other shady activities just to sustain themselves.
The South African government will not issue any work permits for these kinds of jobs.
South African citizens also lament that these jobs should be given to them and not to foreign nationals like Basotho.
Lesotho nationals who are found to be in South Africa illegally are deported to Lesotho just like any other illegal foreigners.
On many occasions you hear Basotho complain about this saying they were not fairly treated because they are going to lose their jobs.
My question is which jobs?
Is it not the same thing that we have here when we accuse the Chinese of taking jobs and small businesses that should be left for Basotho?
Some Basotho argue that South Africa should give preferential treatment to Lesotho nationals.
They normally allude to the fact that Lesotho harboured freedom fighters during the apartheid struggle.
But what is it that makes Basotho different from other such as Zambian and Mozambican nationals who also harboured ANC fighters during the struggle?
Lesotho is an independent and sovereign state. It has internationally recognised borders with South Africa.
History tells us something far different from what we see today in terms of boundaries between these states.
We are told Lesotho’s boundary went as far as Vereeniging and covered areas such as Matatiele and others which now fall under South Africa.
It does not make sense for anyone to claim rights to live, study or work in South Africa without proper documents only because he/she is a Mosotho.
So what kind of relations should we push with our only neighbour?
Some people think it is best for South Africa to swallow Lesotho and that it should be declared a tenth province of South Africa.
They go further to say not much will be needed to realign systems of governance between the two countries because the system of government in South Africa is much closer to what we have here in Lesotho.
Those who push this argument think it is the ultimate solution to Lesotho’s problems.
This kind of integration will see Lesotho as the 10th province of South Africa, receiving loads of money from the South African government coffers for infrastructure development and job creation in Lesotho.
However, that argument ignores one fundamental reality — that South Africa is facing its own problems.
Every day we listen and watch South Africa and international media highlighting severe challenges haunting the South African government.
People still go without electricity, live in shacks, poverty remains a challenge, joblessness and many other challenges remain unsolved 16 years after independence.
Others feel that making Lesotho a 10th province of South Africa won’t solve Lesotho’s problems.
They however advocate very close cooperation between the two countries. They argue that an inter-twined population register will be the starting point, where Lesotho nationals will appear on the South African population register and vice-versa.
This will make it easier for the South African state security apparatus to identify Basotho easily.
South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs could then be requested to assist in making identity documents for Basotho which may come in any form but not identical to those of South African citizens.
When the South African government is able to trace people through this register and ID’s given to Lesotho nationals, it will then be time to negotiate exemption from entry requirements to South Africa by all holders of the new IDs, which will result in the long awaited implementation of the free movement of Basotho at all ports of entries.
Work, study and many other related permits will be waived.
South African financial institutions will find it easy to give full services to the new Lesotho ID holders.
A very close cooperation between the two countries in the health sector will follow.
This quantum leap can only be achieved through a political decision by leaders of the two states.
This could see Lesotho, listed as among the least developed countries in the world, eventually graduating into a modern state.
It is also imperative to note that the second solution to the current problem is a controversial one.
But there are precedents that we can refer to such as the collaboration among European states on the issue of immigration. We also find such collaboration between countries such as Australia and New Zealand and the United States and Canada.
Before we start attacking the Chinese for the same sins we commit in other countries like South Africa, it is essential that we get our house in order first.
No one can deny the fact that there are more Basotho found in South Africa than in Lesotho.
South Africa is not concerned about the Lesotho nationals carrying out their daily business in South Africa.
They only get worried when they see the Chinese and other nationals being in possession of Lesotho passports and other documentation.
This brings about security problems for South Africa, where it becomes difficult to identify who is a Mosotho and who is not.
If 1.8 million Basotho who live in Lesotho were to all cross into South Africa and live there, what difference would it make taking into consideration that you find more than three million illegal Zimbabweans in South Africa and yet that number did not shake South Africa?
To deal with the problems between South Africa and Lesotho we need to find a way of identifying Lesotho nationals.
South Africa is jittery about its own security.
This is the reason why we see these deportations.