Government lands deportees in jail

  • 41 convicted and freed while 20 can’t afford the R1 500 fine, remained incarcerated
  • The 20 freed Thursday by a Good Samaritan

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – A government-backed maneuver to rescue over 400 stranded Basotho factory-workers from the South African KwaZulu Natal city of Newcastle has backfired – 41 of the deportees were on Monday arrested at the Maseru Border Gate and charged for flouting the country’s immigration laws. 20 of those arrested were languishing in a Ladybrand jail after they failed to pay the R1 500 fine they were slapped with on Tuesday by the Ladybrand Magistrate Court. The other 21 managed the fine and were freed. All of those arrested from the 455 Basotho repatriated are reportedly second offenders, and were charged for residing and working in South Africa illegally.

Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane’s press attaché, Thapelo Mabote, confirmed these developments to Public Eye yesterday; further revealing that his office was monitoring the situation of those who remained imprisoned. Public Eye has since established that the 20 who had remained in jail were released yesterday, after a citizen of goodwill anonymously paid the fines. Following the Monday arrests, the deportees and a section of the public flatly blamed government for the eventuality, arguing government should have facilitated a safe passage for the group and made prepared proper repatriation logistics before bringing the people home – especially aware of their illegal status while working in South Africa.

Some went as far as demanding for government to pay the fines on behalf of those in detention. Government launched the joint exercise to rescue the group from Newcastle through the Ministries of Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) and the Office of the Prime Minister following reports that the workers were being hunted and allegedly harassed by the South African police for not having a proper residence and work permits.

Seven buses were sent to Newcastle to collect the factory workers and bring them back home. According to the factory workers, they were told that full logistics for their repatriation have been made and they will not even need to present their passports at the border gate. In an interview with Public Eye, Paulina Lethibelane said that they were told to relax further being told they would not be fined or arrested for having stayed in South Africa illegally.

She said to their disappointment upon arrival at the Maseru Border Gate, they were told to present their passports and those that had illegally extended their stay in South Africa, and were first offenders, had their passports banned from entering South Africa for five years. She said government officials that brought them back home did not even communicate the immediate changes with them, and they had to hear from the DMA officials’ phone conversations that some of them were being arrested. Lethibelane does not have a work permit and she exceeded her stay in South Africa, as result she was among the people banned from entering the country.

She has not tried to apply for the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) and is not willing to go back to South Africa owing to unfavorable working conditions and the little she was earning in the factory she was working for. The initial application process for the LSP began in March 2016 and was due to end in June 16, but three extensions were made with the final extension being on March 2017. In October 2017, South African Home Affairs indicated 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 and 3582 were rejected. The LSP expired by end of 2019 and was extended with four years and will expire again in 2023.

Among those that have been banned from South Africa for five years is also Lieketseng Setika. She has been working in Newcastle as a factory worker for the past five years and says despite being banned, she will find other means to go back as her family solely depends on her for survival. She said she could not afford the LSP during registration process and when she has finally saved enough money to apply, the application process had been closed. Following these developments, the Basotho Action Party (BAP) is among those that point an accusing finger at government for the detention of Basotho repatriated from South Africa. Leader of the BAP, Professor Nqosa Mahao, said the government should have made full logistics for deportation of the concerned Basotho before hurrying to collect them to gloat.

Speaking to the media in Maseru this week, Mahao further made the damning allegation that during the October national elections, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) was able to pay bribes to South African immigration officers to allow its members collected from across South Africa to freely cross into Lesotho without documentation or getting their passports destroyed because the RFP wanted the people to vote for it. He said the government should have done the same thing, and failure to do so is prove that the government does not really care for Basotho but used them to gain power. Mahao further noted that the government should facilitate payment of all imposed fines for arrested people so that they are released and can go back to their respective families.

“While the BAP does appreciate the attempt of the Lesotho government to timeously rescue those vulnerable Basotho economic refugees, it would have been much proper if prior arrangements were made with the South African government to allow safe and free passage of home-bound Basotho. Realistically, our government ought to have negotiated a makeshift solution in the meantime, considering that Lesotho is a landlocked state, and South Africa is Lesotho’s only gateway into the world market. Not only that, but also taking into account the fact that the life of Basotho who get to be unlawfully deprived of their travel visas is intertwined and depends in many respects on RSA – and their visits are reasonably inevitable,” he said.

He further articulated that impacts of prohibiting further illegal cross border movement of those affected Basotho shall have an adverse bearing on their health, family relations, economic welfare, and among others ills and the incidence of crime cannot be expected to decline with the approach the government adopts. The BAP called upon the government to reconsider its approach further noting that genuine talks must begin to strive for a much freer and safer movement of capital and humans across the borders of the neighboring countries. Mahao said the government should invoke the principles of the SADC Treaty, the AU labour migration policies and bilateral agreements such as the recent Bi-National Commission as is appropriate and necessary.

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