Officials meet over special permits

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Lesotho Home Affairs principal secretary Advocate Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela
Lesotho Home Affairs principal secretary Advocate Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela

Pascalinah Kabi

Lesotho and South African Home Affairs officials met in Maseru yesterday to discuss Lesotho Special Permits (LSP) whose application opened on 1 March this year.

The permits would allow Basotho to work, study, and do business in South Africa from 30 June 2016 to 30 April 2020.

To qualify for the permits, applicants must have a valid passport, be registered on the Lesotho National Population Register system, have police clearance from Lesotho and South Africa, and provide proof of employment, business registration and admission from an educational institution.

However, despite its good intentions, Basotho have not applied for the special dispensation in droves as expected, with many complaining they cannot afford the M970 they have to pay for the permit, while others have complained about the online method of application.

These challenges were among the issues discussed in yesterday’s closed-door meeting led by Home Affairs Principal Secretary Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela and South Africa’s Home Affairs Director-General Mkhuseli Apleni.

Only 18 000 people have applied for the LSP out of an estimated 500 000 Basotho who were expected to seek the permits.

Officials who attended yesterday’s meeting were tightlipped over their discussions, insisting they needed to table the deliberations and recommendations before their respective ministers first.

But according to sources who attended the meeting, the two parties agreed to recommend the removal of bank statements and tax-clearance certificates from the list of documents required from those operating businesses.

The parties are also said to have agreed to accept manual applications, in addition to online submissions.

“The meeting acknowledged that online registrations are a problem for some applicants because they don’t have access to technology and the internet.

“However, the technical team from Lesotho and South Africa, which is jointly working on this issue expects to meet the two ministers – Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane and Malusi Gigaba – next week to seek their approval on the  amendments proposed today,” one of the sources told the Lesotho Times after the meeting

Addressing the media after the meeting, Advocate Sekonyela acknowledged the challenges associated with the current requirements for the LSP, but urged Basotho to make sure of this opportunity as the deadline for applications is 30 June 2016.

“The purpose of today’s visit by South African Home Affairs officials was for us to review the LSP application process jointly,” Advocate Sekonyela said.

“The LSP is a very important project for Basotho who have been suffering for a long time because they did not have the necessary documents to be in South Africa.

“Basotho were going through so much suffering but could not report whatever was happening to them to the authorities because they didn’t have the required papers.”

He urged Basotho to apply for the permits, reiterating they would not be prosecuted for staying in South Africa illegally until 31 December 2016.

Advocate Sekonyela also acknowledged some of the challenges faced by potential applicants such as first having to come to Lesotho to apply for a birth certificate, ID and passport first.

To address this problem, Advocate Sekonyela said his ministry was considering establishing mobile registration units in South Africa where Basotho can obtain these documents.

Advocate Sekonyela further said officials from ministries of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs were set to meet on Monday next week to discuss the possibility of  Lesotho consulates in South Africa issuing the identity documents.

However, Advocate Sekonyela refused to share the joint technical committees’ recommendations with the media, saying these could only be revealed by the two ministers once they have studied them and made a final decision.

On his part, Mr Apleni said it was cause for concern that Basotho were reluctant to apply for the LSP.

“We had some estimations that there are about 500 000 Basotho staying in South Africa but only 18 000 LSP applications have been received so far,” Mr Apleni said.

He also acknowledged online registrations presented challenges “because of the geographical spread of South Africa”, which he said made it hard for some Basotho to access the internet.

Mr Apleni added these were some of the issues yesterday’s meeting tried to understand and make recommendations on to the ministers concerned.

He further said travelling three times to Lesotho to apply for IDs in order to get a passport might be a stumbling block for LSP applicants hence the slow uptake of the permits.

“We will now take the recommendations to our principals. They will look at them, and once they have approved them, they will make the necessary announcement,” he said.

The ultimate goal, he said, was for Basotho to have the permits and regularize their stay in South Africa.

“There is urgent need to remove any stumbling blocks in the LSP application process.

“I think it is also important for us to mention that at times, people are reluctant to apply for such permits, suspecting they could be a trap.

“But I want to assure all Basotho that the two governments introduced the LSP for the benefit of both countries. There is no hidden agenda in their introduction,” he said.

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