Illegal crossings into SA reach crisis levels

  • as woman drowns while attempting to cross into South Africa

Limpho Sello

LESOTHO has a crisis on its hands after recording a sharp increase in the number of Basotho who are illegally crossing to and from South Africa through undesignated borders.

So dire is the situation that a woman on Monday drowned in the Mohokare River in Maputsoe while attempting to cross into South Africa using an undesignated crossing point.

This as desperate Basotho travellers have resorted to using inflatable mattresses to cross flooded rivers into South Africa.

Although statistics are unavailable, the spike has been attributed to travellers’ failure to afford Covid-19 clearance certificates, which are mandatory when crossing into South Arica.

Social media is awash with videos and photos of people crossing flooded rivers aboard makeshift boats as they evade paying exorbitant test fees.

Lesotho is currently relying on two private laboratories for testing Covid-19. The two laboratories charge M1300 for the test. The National Refence Laboratory (NRL), which conducts the tests for free, is currently closed due to the unavailability of testing consumables. The NRL was shut down over fortnight ago.

Lesotho’s Home Affairs minister Motlalentoa Letsosa last month met with his South African counterpart, Aaron Motsoaleli, and agreed that visitors between the two countries would be allowed to travel across the borders after conducting a rapid diagnostic test. The rapid diagnostic test is done at the border and the results are normally available after 15 to 30 minutes and costs M150.

However, the South African immigration authorities have been turning away travellers saying the rapid diagnostic test was reserved for haulage truck drivers and learners. The rest of the travellers are expected to produce valid Covid-19 clearance certificates that are not older than 72 hours.

Mr Letsosa yesterday said Basotho travelers must postpone their journeys until the standoff over rapid tests is resolved.

“Last week I told Parliament and Senate that it was best for Basotho to postpone their trips until the issue of rapid tests is resolved,” Mr Letsosa said.

“We have a delegation that is currently in South Africa discussing the matter and we will know what they would have agreed when they are back. Only then will we announce the new requirements.”

He however, could not be drawn into saying when the delegation is expected back home.

Meanwhile, a 21-year-old Bela-Bela woman drowned on Monday while attempting to cross the Mohokare River into South Africa through an undesignated crossing place.

The woman was aboard an inflatable mattress being used as a boat being assisted to cross into South Arica by dealers commonly referred to as lirurubele when disaster struck.

The police said the woman slipped from the makeshift raft and the lirurubele panicked and took off.

The confirmed to the Lesotho Times on Tuesday that a 21-year-old woman from Bela-Bela, who resided in Maputsoe drowned on Monday in an attempt to cross to South Africa.

Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the woman slipped in the hands on one of boys who were helping her and other travellers to cross.

“The boys panicked and ran away, so the police are still looking for them. The body of the woman has still not been found. Police divers are still searching for her body,” Supt Mopeli said.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times on Tuesday, Leribe district administrator Moseme Makhele said Maputsoe has 18 illegal crossing routes into South Africa.

“The country is working tirelessly in fighting Covid-19 but when such incidents continue happening, it means we are not protected.

“We have asked the security agencies to urgently intervene.”

Mr Makhele lamented that the lirurubele’s continued practice of assisting illegal crossings was likely to spark tension between South Africa and Lesotho after unconfirmed reports that some were arrested in the neighbouring country this week.

Quthing district administrator Motete Mokonyane also said illegal crossings have also increased in his district because of the lack of testing consumables.

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