MASERU – Lesotho nationals travelling to South Africa will now enter the big neighbour’s borders without paying and testing for the Covid-19 if they can show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours. South Africa president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said the measures would take effect from this week (Wednesday, March 23) once the new regulations were gazetted.
“With these changes, almost all restrictions on social and economic activity will have been lifted,” Ramaphosa said on South African national television on Tuesday this week. Since the imposition of the Covid-19 regulations in 2020, Lesotho residents travelling to South Africa have been compelled to pay up to M1 000 for PCR tests to get across the borders. Lately, Basotho were asked to pay M250 for the rapid Covid test at the border gates.
The easing of the travel restrictions also mean South Africa’s businesses will make gains as Basotho travellers will now cross the borders in greater numbers without incurring extra costs. While Ramaphosa said the pandemic had changed the way people worked, travelled, worshipped and socialised, it also means the taxi businesses operating between Lesotho and South Africa border posts will make gains.
Not only were the taxi operators at the borders on the South African side desperate for passengers that they would fight over Lesotho travellers in private vehicles, the bordering towns were also relatively empty. With the easing of restrictions, border towns such Ladybrand, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg and Matatiele will now see more traffic from Lesotho for business, medical and tourism travellers.
Lesotho imports mainly goods from South Africa with food making the bulk of consumer inflation. In 2019, South Africa exported US$1.3 billion worth of goods to Lesotho while Lesotho exported US$480 million to South Africa. During the last 19 years, the exports of South Africa to Lesotho have increased at an annualised rate of 5.64 percent, from US$458 million in 2000 to US$1.3 billion in 2019.
The increase in South Africa’s year-on-year exports to Lesotho was explained primarily by a decrease in product exports in rolled tobacco (M-16.1 million or -40.9 percent), corn (M-7.26 million or -31.5 percent), and seed oils (M-6.6 million or -28 percent). South Africa’s year-on-year imports from Lesotho was explained primarily by a decrease in product imports in non-knit women’s suits (M-15 million or -27.5 percent), knit women’s suits (M-9.8 million or -38.4 percent), and bedspreads (M-8.43 million or -20.2 percent).
In 2019, South Africa’s imports destinations were mainly through the ports of entry in Maseru (M334 million), Ficksburg (M241 million), Qacha’s Nek (M9.31 million), Johannesburg/OR Tambo (M119 000), and Caledonspoort (M104 000). Otherwise in 2019, South Africa was ranked 57 in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI 0.24), and 36 in total exports (US$109 billion).
That same year, Lesotho ranked 115 in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI -0.85), and 154 in total exports (US1.14 billion). Ramaphosa said the Covid-19 pandemic had shattered many livelihoods and devastated South Africa’s economy, leading to the closure of many businesses and the loss of some two million jobs. Thousands of Lesotho residents work in South Africa legally or illegally and many have been affected by the job losses.
It is expected that the easing of movement across the Lesotho and South Africa borders will also mean more money to Basotho migrants who eke out a living in South Africa as farm labourers, traders, construction workers and house helpers. Meanwhile earlier this week, media reports showed South African police were called to intervene when foreigners from Lesotho and Zimbabwe fought over jobs in Cape Town. Disputes between the Lesotho and Zimbabwean workers have been raging as tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse the gatherings.