SOUTH Africa has extended the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) programme for another four years beginning December 2019.
The development brings relief to thousands of Basotho living, working and studying in the neighbouring country whose permits expire at the end of the year.
South African Home Affairs Minister, Siyabonga Cwele, announced the extension of the LSP early this week. He made the announcement at a joint media briefing with his Lesotho counterpart, Tsukutlane Au, in Maseru. The LSP was initially introduced in 2015 to enable eligible Basotho to lawfully reside, work, study and conduct business in South Africa. It was due to expire in December this year.
The initial application process for the LSP 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 200 000 Basotho living in South Africa do not appear to have bothered to apply.
Former South African Home Affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, had said his government would deport those found without the LSP after expiry of the application deadline. This was however, not implemented and with the LSPs due to expire in December, South Africa has moved to extend the permits by a further four years.
On Monday, Dr Cwele said processes were underway to issue application forms for LSP holders ahead of the expiry of their permits.
"We have had a discussion (with Mr Au) on the issue of the special permit for Basotho and we agreed that those who (previously) qualified need to be issued with re-application forms so that they could be processed in time before December," Dr Cwele said.
"We have agreed that we will meet again by the end of February to arrange for applications for other categories including those who did not qualify for the LSP in the previous dispensation. We are willing to assist everyone who applies and qualifies for the LSP to get one," Dr Cwele said.
Dr Cwele also announced that major progress has been made by both countries in their project to enhance border controls.
"We have had a successful meeting where we were looking at the progress made in dealing with challenges which were identified at the border gates. The major challenge was that of congestion.
"The congestion was mainly on the South African side but through cooperation between the two countries we are seeing some improvements although there is still more work to be done.
"All of us are committed to improving movement for the people who come to our countries legally. We continue to encourage our people to access legal documents to make movement more regular so that they do not use other risky and irregular routes like crossing the rivers," Dr Cwele said.
On his part, Mr Au said the two countries would also discuss how best to assist Basotho whose applications for the first LSPs were rejected.
"There were some people who applied but did not get their permits. Both sides are aware of that and we are working on the matter. We will discuss the matter when we meet next month and agree on how best to deal with it so that we do not have such problems in future," Mr Au said.
He further said that Lesotho was continuing with its efforts to improve its infrastructure at its borders.
"We are lagging behind in terms of the infrastructural improvements. We have already completed dedicated lanes for different members of the public, the very important persons (VIPs), pedestrians and special permits holders. The construction is almost done but we still need the signages and boom gates. We hope that when everything is complete the movement of traffic will be smooth," Mr Au said.