It’s not South Africa’s fault

FOR two weeks now South Africa has denied entry into the country to thousands of Basotho who are using temporary travel documents.

Those who have six months permits have had to endure long hours in tortuous queues as they wait for their passports to be scanned.

The inconvenience to businesses has been huge with some companies failing to restock on time.

There is no end in sight to this border crisis.

Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla’s visit to Pretoria this week to persuade South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to rethink the stringent border controls came to naught.

Dlamini-Zuma told the deputy prime minister that the tough border controls are here to stay (See story on Page 2).

We understand the public anger that has been spawned by the border measures.

Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa and its people live off jobs in that country.

We buy everything — from cabbages to fuel — from our only neighbour.

Almost every supermarket or shop in Lesotho imports goods from South Africa.

It’s our gateway to the ports and the rest of the world.

Yet to describe South Africa’s new immigration measures as a “blockade” like some have done is preposterous.

To call it a betrayal, as some have done, is equally scandalous.

For starters, South Africa’s decision was not abrupt.

Lehohla told a press conference on Thursday that the government knew as far back as February that South Africa was going to reject the temporary travel documents.

He admitted that the government had bungled because it could have been better prepared for the crisis.

“I have been damn stupid to have not been aware of the scale of the problem,” the deputy prime minister said.

It’s clear that it was Lesotho’s error of judgment that caused the mayhem that we have seen at the border posts.

But the crux of the problem goes beyond the government’s dismal failure to be proactive.

For years the government has known that the Passport Service Department has been failing to deal with its huge passport backlog.

They have known that the department is arguably one of the most corrupt in the civil service.

They have known too, for years, that the department is short-staffed.

The list of 200 000 people still waiting for passports is therefore a result of years that we have turned a blind eye to the crisis in the department.

We are reaping the fruits of our failure to deal with the rot that now pervades the department.

It’s important to note that Lesotho only has 1.8 million people.

As the backlog accumulated the department chose the easy option of issuing temporary travel documents instead of passports.

Little wonder then that when South Africa said no to our temporary travel documents many were stranded.

For this we have no one to blame but ourselves.

The brouhaha that this crisis has stoked says more about our lack of foresight as a country.

Our heavy dependence on South Africa is so unhealthy that it has now reached toxic levels.

It is because we have not developed our own industries that South Africa can threaten our economy and — dare we say — our national security.

That is precisely why when South Africa tinkers with its border controls the pain of the pinch is felt more in our little kingdom than in any other southern African country.

It’s because of our lack of development that we have thousands of our people trying to cross into South Africa to look for jobs and opportunities.

It is because of poor infrastructure that we have many professionals who work in Lesotho living in a tiny farming town across the border, Ladybrand.

It is because of our poor education system that we have many people sending their children to schools across the border.

It is high time we understand that South Africa does not owe us a living simply because it surrounds us.

South Africa has every right to implement new security measures on its borders.

It is for South Africa to decide who to let in within its borders.

We hope the powers-that-be have learnt something from this sad episode.

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