3 March 2018

Lesotho, SA to Meet Over Permits

Home Affairs Minister, Tsukutlane Au, is set to meet his South African counterpart, Malusi Gigaba, to discuss the highly emotive issue of the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) amid indications that Lesotho will request South Africa not to deport Lesotho nationals who were not granted LSPs.

The meeting was initially scheduled for tomorrow in Pretoria but Home Affairs Principal Secretary, 'Machabana Lemphane - Letsie, said South Africa had requested a postponement to a later date due to this week's cabinet reshuffle which saw Ayanda Dlodlo being replaced by Mr Gigaba.

Mr Gigaba was the Home Affairs minister when the South African government introduced the four-year LSP in 2015 to enable qualifying Basotho to lawfully work, study or do business in South Africa.

The initial application process for the permit began in March 2016 and was due to end in June 2016. There were three extensions culminating in the final extension to 31 March 2017 for all applications.

A South African Home Affairs report issued in October 2017 said that 194 941 LSP applications were received out of an estimated 400 000 Basotho believed to be in South Africa.

"Out of these, about 90,225 were approved, 3 582 rejected," the report stated.

Although 90 225 applications were approved, the figure is a drop in the ocean as it represents less than a quarter of the 400 000 Basotho estimated by the South African government to be living within its borders.

Even though most of those who applied succeeded in getting the LSP, more than 300 000 Basotho living in South Africa do not appear to have bothered to apply. They now risk being arrested and deported from that country after a moratorium on such deportations expired on 31 December 2017.

During his first stint at the helm of the Home Affairs ministry, Mr Gigaba vowed that his government would enforce deportations upon the expiry of the moratorium as Africa's second largest and most sophisticated economy seeks to stem off the tide of illegal immigration into its borders.

However, the two countries will soon meet to discuss Lesotho's requests which include a freeze on arrests and deportations as well as the relaxation of the LSP requirements.

Ms Lemphane - Letsie this week said that officials from both countries' Home Affairs ministries held a preparatory meeting last week in Pretoria ahead of the ministers' meeting which had been scheduled for tomorrow.

"Last week, home affairs officials from both countries met in Pretoria to map the way forward for Basotho who failed to get the LSP," Ms Lemphane - Letsie said.

"We then scheduled a meeting of the SA and Lesotho Home Affairs ministers for 2 March to further discuss how the two countries would deal with LSP issues to avoid the arrests and deportations of Basotho.

"Following the cabinet reshuffle, South Africa has asked for the meeting to be postponed to a later date."

For his part, Mr AU said he would only share with this publication the outcome of the meeting with his South African counterpart.

He has however, previously told this publication that he would request South Africa to revise the LSP in order to come up with a totally different arrangement because the current document which was "modelled on a similar one for Zimbabweans does not address the special circumstances of Basotho nationals".

He said the government would negotiate with their South African counterparts for a special arrangement akin to that of Italy and the Vatican where citizens of the former did not need passports to work or visit the latter country.

Meanwhile, South Africa has begun the process of reimbursing Basotho nationals who unsuccessfully applied for the LSP.

According to Ms Lemphane - Letsie, "South Africa's Home Affairs ministry noted that there were Basotho who paid the application fee but failed to meet the deadline for applying and these will be reimbursed because their applications were never processed".

The application fee was M970.


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