MASERU — Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa says Basotho are getting a raw deal from the South African government which is now treating them worse than they were treated under apartheid.
Tsekoa was addressing a press conference held in Maseru on Tuesday following the ANC’s centenary celebrations in Bloemfontein last weekend.
Tsekoa lashed out at the South African government saying it felt “offended when told that the way it treats Basotho is worse than the dealings between the two countries during white rule”.
Tsekoa said he was concerned that Lesotho’s accommodating diplomacy was being interpreted by some Basotho as “folding arms and doing nothing” about South Africa’s high-handed bilateral relations especially regarding the issue of free movement of citizens between the two countries.
South Africa tightened its borders in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup tournament forcing thousands of Basotho who worked in that country to queue for hours at the Maseru border post.
Tsekoa accused the South African government of not being interested in Lesotho’s quest for free movement at the borders.
He said although the two governments had agreed to work together to find solutions to the border crisis, the authorities in Pretoria had always dragged their feet on the issue.
Meetings between Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla and his South African counterpart, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, had failed to yield satisfactory results.
“At one time my senior, Home Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Honourable Lesao Lehohla, jetted to Pretoria to meet his counterpart with whom they had agreed to a meeting but to his surprise he was told upon arrival that she was in Cape Town,” Tsekoa said.
“Honourable Lehohla then sought money from our High Commission and caught a plane to Cape Town so that he could meet the minister who had left Pretoria knowing well that she would have a visitor.”
Tsekoa said when the meeting failed to resolve the border row, King Letsie III then invited President Jacob Zuma on a state visit to Lesotho in August 2010 where he was confronted about the border crisis.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili also met Zuma on the same issue.
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“President Zuma pointed to his ministers as the ones directly dealing with the issues raised and the two governments agreed on follow-up meetings,” Tsekoa said.
“The officials met several times and eventually agreed to have a meeting in Maseru but to this day it (meeting) has never happened.”
Tsekoa said King Letsie III also raised similar concerns when he visited South Africa in August 2010.
He said although follow-up meetings had taken place between the two countries nothing had changed on the ground.
In fact, the situation had worsened with long queues of cargo trucks and private cars re-emerging of late, Tsekoa said.
He said he had at one time been harassed by South African border police when they ordered him to get out of ministerial vehicle and present his passport.
Tsekoa said he sometimes asks South Africa’s High Commissioner to Lesotho, Happy Mahlangu, to accompany him to the border to see how desperate the situation is for Basotho.
“I just want him to write about the things he witnesses when he writes his reports,” Tsekoa said.
He said the tight border control was scaring investors away from Lesotho.
Of late people from other parts of the world are not allowed to catch planes to Lesotho at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg until the South African authorities issue them with transit visas.
“We told the South African government that they are destroying our investor attractiveness,” Tsekoa said.
“We have a great challenge of bringing our visitors here without first going to South Africa.”
He said the only thing South Africa had done well was to allow thousands of Basotho to study in that country without paying a levy charged on other foreigners.
“They agreed to this after we tirelessly told them that they were being unfair to us because during the apartheid era many of them attended schools in Lesotho and were treated as equals to Basotho children,” Tsekoa said.
“I can mention many of them who are in authority in South Africa who received their education in Lesotho and were never treated differently from Basotho.”