…some arrested for being undocumented
…others banished by SA for at least 5 years
“We jumped from the frying pan into the fire.”
That was the reaction of some Basotho who were repatriated by the government of Lesotho from the Kwazulu Natal province of South Africa this week.
More than 600 Basotho arrived at the Maseru border gate on Monday brought by government after it emerged that they were stranded in South Africa as some of them were undocumented.
Upon arrival at the border, some were arrested for overstaying in South Africa while others did not have passports altogether.
Pontšo Nkokana (47), one of the returning nationals, told Newsday she regretted agreeing to be repatriated for she was faced with far harsh consequences at the border.
Nkokana said she had been working in South Africa for more than six years and over the years learnt to negotiate border officials when she had overstayed in the neighbouring country.
“When we arrived in the Maseru border post, a South African border official approached our bus and arranged us into groups of 10. She said those with documents such as passports, national identity cards or voter’s cards should stand on one side.
“She took passports of those who had them and when she came back, we realised that our passports were stamped with a red stamp written section 30(1) and nobody bothered to explain what it meant.
“We later learnt that we were blacklisted from returning to South Africa for five years,” she said.
‘Makopano Makoaela (35) told this publication that she has never had ‘overstayed’ in South Africa because she went to the border every month to renew her stay and go back, until recently.
“Being blacklisted from going in to South Africa for five years means I am not going to be able to provide for my parents and siblings anymore,” Makoaela said.
“I am a breadwinner. My little sister goes to high school and I was hoping to save some money to be able to buy her school uniforms next year,” she added.
She explained that some of them were hoping there would not be immigration check on exit because they were brought to the border by government arrangement, but there was, and while others were fined and blacklisted, others were arrested.
“Those who could not afford to pay the fine were locked up until they made a play to pay,” she said.
“We were not told beforehand that this would be the situation upon arrival at the border gate. Some of us would not have boarded the bus if we knew that we were going to be treated in this manner,” Makoaela charged.
She added: “We depend on working in South Africa for survival because our country is failing to create jobs for us. What are we going to do now that we are banished by South Africa?”
Minister in the prime minister’s office, Limpho Tau, told Newsday yesterday that the government was looking into negotiating with the government of South Africa to revoke the sanctions imposed on the repatriated Basotho.
Tau was however quick to mention that South Africa was within its right to blacklist those who did not have traveling documents and those who had overstayed as that is against that country’s law.
“South Africa has a right to enforce such measures. But, looking at the geographical location of Lesotho with South Africa, this means those who have been blacklisted will not be to visit any other country. That is unfair.”
“When you blacklist Basotho, what happens when they get scholarships to study abroad or, for example, their relatives have a wedding in Botswana? It complicates matters,” Tau said.
He said a long-term solution would be an arrangement between for the two countries for free movement without passports for both Basotho and South Africans when travelling between the two countries.
“What I meant is that there should be a law to allow free movement between the two countries,” he added.
He expplained that those who were fined and detained were third time offenders.
“Some of them were able to pay the fine and were released while the other 17 who were unable to pay received assistance from Basotho business people not to be named. They have been released and the government will ensure that they are transported to their respectful homes,” Tau said.
Questions remain pending on the protocol procedures followed in repatriating these citizens. Who did the Government of Lesotho approach diplomatically in South Africa concerning the repatriation and why didn’t the government pay on behalf of the citizens. This paper’s efforts to seek out answers were futile as the Minister of Foreign Affairs Lejone Mpotjoane redirected this reporter to the Deputy Principal
“ I cannot say a word on the matter as the rightful place to answer on it would be the DPS since the Principal Secretary is on leave for personal reasons.” Minister refrained.
The DPS (Deputy Principal Secretary)’s phone rang once and kept disconnecting.