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WITH less than two days to go before the closing date for Lesotho Special Permits (LSP) applications, the Migrant Workers Association of Lesotho (MWA – Lesotho) has called for the deadline to be extended for another year.
MWA – Lesotho is a non-governmental organisation advocating for the welfare of Basotho migrant workers.
The LSP which was first announced in January 2016, is aimed at enabling the estimated 400 000 Basotho residents in South Africa to legally reside, work and study in that country.
The initial application process for the four-year permits began in March 2016 and was due to end in June 2016. There have been two extensions since then, culminating in the final extension to 31 December 2016.
To date, 179 452 applications for the LSP have been received and 85 276 payments have been made. Some 43 034 Basotho have received their LSP.
The Department of Home Affairs has indicated that there would be no further extensions beyond this grace period and Lesotho nationals living in South Africa without an LSP or not having completed the process by March 2017 will be deported.
In this interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Lekhetho Ntsukunyane speaks with the MWA-Lesotho Executive Director Lerato Nkhetše about the LSP deadline and other related issues.
LT: Briefly tell us about the background of MWA-Lesotho.
Nkhetše: MWA-Lesotho is a non-governmental organisation registered on 14 January 2016. It was formed by professionals and people with deep concern for the plight of migrant persons and their families. Migration, globalization and human rights have emerged as central social, economic and political challenges reshaping the world at the turn of the century. The most immediate challenge facing societies worldwide is the appalling rise in violence against migrants and restrictive government measures that undermine the fundamental basic human rights of millions of migrants and their families. MWA-Lesotho was therefore formed to address the above mentioned challenges.
LT: How do you address these issues?
Nkhetše: We are an association that advocates for the welfare of Basotho labour migrants wherever they are deployed. We are saying employers and policymakers should ensure that there are clear policies and laws that enrich the workers and simplify means of working from one country to another in promotion of skills transfer. Therefore, we highly welcome the issue of LSP as a bilateral arrangement between Lesotho and South Africa because it is one step to enhancing labour relations and promotion of skills transfer between the two countries. However, we are saying this is just a starter. The Lesotho authorities should take this opportunity as a starting point to establish more labour relations agreements with other countries where Basotho still work in fairly large numbers like in the United Kingdom, Botswana and elsewhere. This should not end with South Africa. Lesotho has a significant number of skilled people who remain jobless. Agreements like this will help us reduce the high rate of unemployment in the country. But most importantly, it is through agreements like this that human trafficking and other cross border crimes are reduced.
LT: Are you working with the government?
Nkhetše: We have introduced ourselves to the Ministry of Home Affairs and established relations in so far as the LSP is concerned. We have already held a few meetings with authorities in the ministry but there hasn’t been as much progress yet. But other than that, we have been engaged in the mobilisation and awareness programmes to make LSP a success in terms of making sure that every Mosotho who, within the confines of stipulated requirements, deserves the special permit to be working in South Africa. But additionally we are saying the government should also ensure welfare of the Basotho labour migrants. There should also be a clear policy that fairly regulates benefits of Basotho working in South Africa based on skills and experience. We should not encounter a situation where Basotho are undermined, in terms of working benefits, against their South African counterparts at workplaces just because they are Basotho. Issues of fair treatment should be addressed. So basically this is where we play a role of advocacy and mobilization for clear policies to be established.
LT: Have you sat down together with the rest of stakeholders to discuss issues of Basotho workers’ welfare?
Nkhetše: Our main focus has been on three ministries, namely Health, Labour and Employment as well as Home Affairs. From way back, the issue of many Basotho who get sick from their workplaces in South Africa has remained a concern. The government, through the Ministry of Health, should see how best this issue can be addressed with their South African counterparts. So far we have knocked on their doors and arrangements have been made for our appointments with relevant authorities to discuss issues.
LT: What is the progress made so far in as far as the LSP issue is concerned?
Nkhetše: We can happily say that many Basotho have registered for the LSP. However, there are still some challenges where you find that some Basotho encounter hiccups in terms of registering. Actually, from some reports we heard, it was as if some people were not really convinced that even if they had stayed in South Africa illegally in the past, there was now a chance for them to present themselves before the authorities and apply for the LSP. It is unfortunate to hear that some people are still not convinced that they will not get arrested once they show up before the authorities. As the association, we then approached the office of the principal secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and made a proposal that we, as members of a non-governmental organisation, can partner with the ministry officials on the awareness campaigns so that it does not look like the government officials are there to arrest Basotho who are staying in South Africa illegally.
LT: Please elaborate about the membership of the association.
Nkhetše: We have what we call internal and external migration. Internal migration involves working in a district away from your original district but still within the country. External migration means people working outside the country. So, our membership is twofold based on what I have just explained. Our members include domestic workers, contractors, miners, engineers, teachers and drivers. Many of these people work in South Africa. We have since established structures within the association so that we are able to address the members’ needs per category of work.
LT: The LSP final deadline has been set for 31 December 2016. What is your general opinion about that?
Nkhetše: Honestly, we are not satisfied with the set deadline considering that there are still some challenges. One of the challenges is that some Basotho are working in very far destinations within South Africa. It is not easy for them to travel easily back to Lesotho to organise their documentation to qualify for the LSP. Our wish is that the registration phase of the LSP should run for a full two-year period to give Basotho an ample chance for this opportunity that could come once in a lifetime. For instance, as we speak most of the people who completed their applications for the LSP are not in possession of the permits as yet – they only have receipts but the deadline is just a few days away. This also suggests that the challenge is not only on the part of Basotho, but also the authorities in South Africa who produce the permits. I am afraid many Basotho are still facing deportation from South Africa if the deadline cannot be extended again.
LT: Beyond the LSP deadline, what other initiatives do you intend to spearhead?
Nkhetše: As soon as we go back to office on 9 January 2017, we are going to knock on the government’s doors again, in particular the Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane.
We want to ensure the minister makes similar arrangements to the LSP with other countries where Basotho work in large numbers. Our intention is for the operational ground to be levelled for them so they can work under clear conditions. The other issue we are going to raise with the minister and other authorities is that it is time the country should have a clear statistical record of Basotho migrants in South Africa and elsewhere in the world. We hope, through the statistics, the country will be able to trace types of expertise we transfer to other countries and find ways of collecting some remittances from those countries benefiting economically from Basotho experts. Lesotho should benefit economically for transferring skills to other countries.