THE governments of Lesotho and South Africa have agreed that selected categories of travellers including Basotho miners working in South Africa, learners and holders of Lesotho Special Permits (LSPs) will no longer be required to have their passports stamped at the two countries’ borders.
Instead, these travellers will only be required to have their passports scanned as part of measures to ease congestion at the ports of entry.
The measures, which will come into effect on 1 November this year, were jointly announced by Home Affairs minister Tsukutlane Au and his South African counterpart Malusi Gigaba in Maseru on Tuesday.
Besides these, diplomats and senior government officials will also be exempted from having their passports stamped.
This follows a meeting the two ministers held on Tuesday at the Maseru Border Post to discuss ways of improving services and the ultimate goal of free border movement and one-stop border control.
After the meeting, the ministers undertook an inspection tour with a view to identifying areas that needed improvement.
Mr Gigaba said that Maseru and Maputsoe border posts were among the borders which his government had decided to overhaul to ease movement. He said this would be a long-term process hence his meeting with Mr Au to discuss areas which needed urgent attention.
“The South African government has decided to increase efficiency at six borders which link it with other countries and two of these are Maseru Bridge and the Maputsoe border,” Mr Gigaba said.
“This is a long-term project and the meeting was aimed at introducing measures to deal with some of the problems. During the tour we realised that there are several glitches that need to be removed. We could see that there is already congestion and one can just imagine what happens during peak seasons. I am also concerned about the trucks which are parked on top of the bridge and this is a disaster waiting to happen as the bridge was not designed to carry such heavy loads for a long time.
“We have decided that as of 1 November, certain groups of people who cross in and out of South Africa will no longer stamp but have their passports scanned instead.
“The exemption for these groups will serve as a trial to enable us to see how it works so that we can roll it out to other citizens of the two countries. We will receive reports on a monthly basis from border officials and we will further meet as ministers twice per annum prior to Easter and the festive season to receive and approve operational plans. We believe by the end of November of December we will have reduced the congestion and will continue to do so thereafter,” Mr Gigaba added.
For his part, Mr Au said Lesotho would complement South African by introducing the scanning process on the Lesotho side to enhance security.
“We have heard the cry of people regarding the congestion at the border and we are working to introduce an integrated border management system to facilitate ease of movement.
“As Minister Gigaba indicated, passports will no longer be stamped. When the process comes into effect on 1 November, we will also start scanning passports on our side to guard against the misuse of our documents. I also told Mr Gigaba that Lesotho is moving away from analogue to digital passports to ensure transparency,” Mr Au said.
The two ministers also agreed to revisit the issue of the Lesotho Special Permits (LSP).
The four-year LSP was introduced in 2015 to enable qualifying Basotho to lawfully work, study or do business in South Africa.
A similar permit was granted to hordes of Zimbabweans who fled political and economic turmoil in their country to South Africa. Those Zimbabweans who did not apply for the permit to regularise their stay or failed to qualify were deported once the process was over.
Mr Au has previously spoken of the need to revise the LSP or come up with a totally different arrangement because the current document which was “modelled on a similar one for Zimbabweans does not address the special circumstances of Basotho nationals”.
He said the government would negotiate with their South African counterparts for a special arrangement akin to that of Italy and the Vatican where citizens of the former did not need passports to work or visit the latter country.