Huge reprieve for Basotho working in SA



MASERU – Up to 54,653 Basotho working in South Africa have been granted two year extension to their exemption permits, enabling them to continue working in South Africa (SA) legally. South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaleli, however, declared last Friday that the extension would be the final one. The permits extension, set to expire on November 29, 2025, will not be renewed beyond that date.

Following Motsoaledi’s announcement, Lephema Lebona, the Minister of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs, and Police, told a media briefing that the decision was a collaborative effort between Lesotho and South Africa. “This comes after vigorous negotiations between Lesotho and South Africa in Pretoria in September this year where we signed a bi-national co-operation agreement,” Lephema said.

Lephema added that it was at that meeting that the two countries agreed that Basotho should also be granted a 90-day visa-free entry into South Africa. “I would like to thank Minister Motsoaledi and officers of Home Affairs in both countries for working together to see this process through. We are still working hard to ensure that movement of persons between the two countries becomes more relaxed,” he said.

In his speech, Motsoaledi said South Africa decided to grant exemptions to approximately 54 653 Lesotho nationals for two more years.  “The affected Lesotho nationals will be entitled to apply for new exemption permits under the following terms and conditions: A holder of the exemption permits will be entitled to work, seek employment and conduct business in the Republic of South Africa,” he said. He added that holders of the exemption permits due to expire on December 31 2023 or such extended period of validity will be entitled to sojourn in the Republic of South Africa during the validity of the exemption permit.

However, the extension does not allow holders to apply for permanent residency in SA. “A holder of the permit will not be entitled to apply for permanent residence in terms of sections 25, 26 and 27 of Immigration Act of 13 of 2002 or any other provisions in any other law irrespective of the period of stay in the Republic of South Africa,” he said, adding that new exemption permits issued will expire on November 29, 2025. Similarly, about 200 000 Zimbabweans with the exemption permits whose terms are similar to the Lesotho Exemption Permit, were also granted a two-year extension.

In June this year, the High Court, Gauteng Division, made a ruling regarding the termination of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP). The Helen Suzman Foundation and Consortium for Refugees and Migrants were the first and second applicants in this case, and the court declared the Minister’s decision to be “unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid.”

The respondents in this case were the Minister of Home Affairs, the Director-General of Home Affairs, and the All Truck Drivers Forum and Allied South Africa. Additionally, the court reviewed and overturned the Minister’s decision to deny permit renewals.  It is important for the Minister to comply with the court’s order, as failing to do so would be considered as contempt of court. South Africa initially issued special dispensation permits to Basotho workers in 2009, which were later renewed after their expiration.

Recently, Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane held a meeting with SA’s President Cyril Ramaphosa for the inaugural Bi-National Commission (BNC) session between the two countries.

BNC is the result of an agreement signed in November2021 to elevate the bilateral mechanism from a Joint Bilateral Commission of Co-operation (JBCC) to a BNC, which is now presided over by the Lesotho’s Head of Government and SA’s Head of State.

The border movement between Lesotho and SA has been a significant issue, as SA is Lesotho’s only immediate neighbour. Many Basotho migrate to SA in search of economic opportunities, some without legal documents, which has caused tension between the two countries.

Lesotho is classified as a developing country, while SA is considered an economic powerhouse in Africa. Despite previous discussions on free movement of people and goods, this arrangement has not been realised due largely to lack of political will.

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