THE national assembly on Tuesday passed a motion for the government to expedite opening up of the cross- border transport system to allow Lesotho operators to benefit economically.
The motion, which was tabled by the deputy leader of the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) Tšepang Mosena, is based on the provisions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology.
The 1996 protocol seeks to promote a harmonised integrated transport policy between members states by establishing transport infrastructure, logistical systems and institutional frameworks.
Article 5.2 of the protocol, on which Ms Mosena bases her argument, says SADC member states agree to develop a harmonised road transport policy providing for equal treatment, non-discrimination, reciprocity and fair competition. The protocol also provides for harmonised operating conditions and promoting the establishment of an integrated transport system.
But Ms Mosena said the article was yet to be implemented between Lesotho and South Africa. As a result, local transport operators are not realising the economic benefit from cross-border transport operations between Lesotho and South Africa as intended by the protocol.
Ms Mosena said the Lesotho transport economy was being exploited and eroded by South African transport operators in the long-standing issue.
“I rise to move that this honourable house urges the government to expedite the implementation of all provisions to safeguard the transport industry for Basotho towards a harmonised road transport policy providing for equal treatment, non-discrimination, reciprocity and fair competition, harmonised operating conditions and promoting the establishment of an integrated transport system, pursuant to the article 5.2 of the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology,” Ms Mosena said.
While other neighbours of South Africa have fluid taxi systems that allow operators into South Africa, Lesotho taxi operators are barred from ferrying passengers across the border.
She said the situation gives South African taxi operators an unfair advantage over those in Lesotho.
Ms Mosena said there was also a syndicate of South African taxi operators who are in the habit of terrorising private motorists travelling from Lesotho to South Africa forcing their passengers to use public transport.
Supporting the motion, Qalo constituency legislator, Thabang Kholumo from the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) said one of the hallmarks of the SADC protocol was ensuring that passengers can reach their destination from one country to the other using one vehicle.
He said implementation should be done at executive level between Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“This is a matter that the two states should tackle to protect passengers and operators,” Mr Kholumo said.
He also said the problem was worsened by some South African public officials who also double as taxi operators and therefore they deliberately frustrate the implementation of the protocol.
“Free State transport operators are frustrating the implementation of the protocol as they are complaining that Lesotho operators pass though their province without paying any money to Gauteng.”
Alliance of Democrats (AD) legislator Mokhele Moletsane, who is also a former deputy Minister of Transport, said this was a historic motion which would be provide an acid test for the country’s leadership.
He also said the implementation of the SADC protocol should be handled at diplomatic level as interventions at lower levels had failed previously.
“The prime minister should raise this point with his South African counterpart whenever possible,” Mr Moletsane said.
He said this was a “hot” issue as there were “Basotho operators who have lost their lives fighting for their rights under this protocol.”
Mr Moletsane concluded by appealing to Basotho to be brave to fight for their rights to have a share in the cross-border transport operation.
For his part, Minister of Transport, Tšoeu Mokeretla, said the ministry was crafting a document on which to base upcoming engagements with his South African counterpart towards resolving the matter.
“We are drafting a document which we will use to engage our South African counterparts to sensitise them that this issue will be discussed at the next SADC summit if there is still no breakthrough in terms of implementing the protocol,” Mr Mokeretla said.