Elsewhere in this edition, we carry a very depressing story about how one of this country’s most prominent advocates Zwelakhe Mda has been denied an identity card and an opportunity to renew his Lesotho passport for what we can only condemn as the most spurious of reasons.
Advocate Mda (KC) is a former president of the Law Society of Lesotho. He has practiced law in this country for many years and inevitably contributed to the shaping of this Kingdom’s jurisprudence.
His parents were born in South Africa but he himself was born here in Mohale’s Hoek district. He is a citizen by birth. He has held a Lesotho passport all his life. Above all, he is a prominent and well-respected citizen. To suddenly tell him that he is not a citizen is preposterous to say the least.
When Advocate Mda sought to renew his passport, he was unable to because some goons at the Ministry of Home Affairs denied him a birth certificate under the current seemingly cumbersome exercise requiring all Basotho to get never used before identity-card (ID) documents before renewing their passports. Before accessing an ID, every Mosotho is, in turn, required to first get a new birth certificate which Advocate Mda has been denied because someone suddenly decided he was born in South Africa despite all evidence to the contrary.
There is nothing wrong with any country seeking to properly document its citizens through a proper and computerised national registration process as Lesotho is doing.
However, when the legal framework is opaque and overzealous bureaucrats trample upon the rights of long standing citizens, it becomes problematic.
Lesotho’s laws currently do not require any Mosotho to have an ID for them to get or renew a passport. Yet this rule was foisted upon us and is being implemented with evangelical zeal. Again, we emphasize that, in principle, there is nothing wrong with any country seeking to properly document its citizens. This becomes a problem if there is no proper legal framework and rules are made on the hoof by uninitiated bureaucrats. It creates a leeway for arbitrariness and impunity as exemplified by Advocate Mda’s case.
Persons who have long been citizens are suddenly told that they no longer belong to this country. If this can happen to a person of Advocate Mda’s calibre, we shudder to think what is being done to many ordinary Basotho who are out of the public glare and cannot afford litigation.
If Advocate Mda loses his Lesotho citizenship, he virtually becomes stateless. South Africa, where he is alleged to have been born, will not grant him automatic citizenship.
This is because citizenship by birth is not automatic in South Africa. The parents must be either legitimate citizens of South Africa or permanent residents at the time of birth to qualify for citizenship by birth. Advocate Mda’s parents are both dead. At the time of their deaths, they were both Lesotho citizens.
Meanwhile Advocate Mda is being treated like a criminal. His case also amplifies the general crassness of Lesotho’s citizenship laws. They don’t match up to the country’s realities. The constitution outlaws dual citizenship despite that Lesotho is in essence an outpost of South Africa. If it were not for colonial era shenanigans, this country will be an integral part of South Africa’s Free State province.
Added to this, we are a least developed country. We have no industry or economy to talk about. We produce nothing. Not even chalks and pencils to use in our schools. Every item in our supermarkets is from South Africa. Geographically, we are fully surrounded by South Africa. Many of our citizens work in South Africa. Indeed many of our leaders hold South African permanent residence status. There is no rational basis for denying Basotho dual-citizenship and enabling them to enjoy the benefits that such a status would bring them including being covered under South Africa’s generous social security system.
It’s amazing how poor countries like Lesotho keep themselves hamstrung with ill-advised laws that serve no rational purpose. The citizenship laws are akin to our land laws that forbid foreigners from buying and wholly-owning land in Lesotho thereby depriving them investment collateral.
Our tourism sector has suffered as a result. Our politicians need to wake up and smell the coffee.