Lesoto, Sunday Express, Inglês


…Minister Lebona promises to follow up with SA 

Mathatisi Sebusi 

Basotho working in South Africa are up in arms over the non-implementation of the 90-day visa waiver project which they had anticipated would be affected on 1 April 2024. 

They have expressed disappointment in the government for “selling them a dream” that they would spent up to three months in South Africa from 1 April 2024 after the two countries inked a 90-day visa waiver last month. 

However, they lament that three weeks into April, the 90-day waiver has not been implemented. 

Basotho migrants who spoke to the?Sunday Express yesterday said they had been rejected by the South African immigration officers at the borders when they requested the 90 days stay when crossing into the neighbouring country. 

They said the explanation they got was that the waiver had not yet been gazetted by the South African Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi. 

Most of these Basotho migrants work illegally in South Africa and had hoped the 90-day visas would serve them the trouble of having to return to the borders monthly to renew their current 30-day permits. 

The 90 days visa free into South Africa was first discussed during the official launch of the Lesotho – South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC) which was held on the 28th September 2023 in Pretoria South Africa. 

The agreement was signed on the 14th?March 2024 by Mr Motsoaledi and Lesotho’s Minister of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police, Lebona Lephema, to increase the visa from 30 days to 90 days, with effect from 1 April 2024. 

However, the Migrant Workers Association of Lesotho Executive Director, Lerato Nkhetse, said that had not been the case and they were therefore disappointed in the government, not only for failing to fulfil its promise to Basotho, but because they were never consulted on whether the arrangement would benefit Basotho migrants working in South Africa or not. 

Mr Nkhetse said the 90 days visa would only benefit Basotho visiting South Africa while migrant workers would still be marginalised as they would be expected to have work permits or the Lesotho Exemption permits (LEPs). 

He said as per South African labour Law, Basotho need work permits to work in South Africa, therefore affording them the 90 days visa waiver would encourage them to violate South African labour Laws. 

“Currently a lot of Basotho who were not able to apply for Lesotho Exemption Permit work in South Africa illegally. These are people who are prone to imprisonment, deportation, and exploitation by employers,” Mr Nkhetse said. 

“Even if the 90 days visa free into South Africa materialised, it would still not address challenges these migrants are facing. 

“Consultations are very important, especially on issues which concern the nation. People should be afforded an opportunity to have a say in matters which concern them,” Mr Nkhetse noted. 

He further said he believed the agreement would not be gazetted any time soon, considering that South Africa was gearing up for general elections slated for next month. He said he believed that country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), would want to be seen as prioritising the interests of South Africans to win votes. 

Mr Nkhetse said he approached South African immigration officers to inquire about the 90-day visas?and was told that the minister has not legalised the agreement through a gazette. 

A Lesotho migrant working in South Africa without LEP, ‘Matebello Sethunya, said she had been banking on the 90 days visa waiver but was shocked when the South African border officials said they were not aware of such an arrangement. 

Ms Sethunya works in South Africa as a domestic worker and is among Basotho whose LEP applications were not successful. 

The LEP came into force in 2019 and expired in December 2023. The LEP replaced the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) which came into effect in 2015 and expired in 2019. The LEPs were only afforded Basotho whose LSPs had expired in 2019. 

The LEP was earlier this year extended by two-years to 2026.?About 94 000 Basotho hold LEPs. Many others don’t have any permits and work in that country illegally. 

The objective behind the LEP was to enable Basotho to work, study and open businesses in the neighbouring country. 

Ms Sethunya and thousands of other Basotho, who work in South Africa as domestic workers and as general labourers in the construction sector, without any official permits, risk being imprisoned. 

While she said the 90-day waiver would not necessarily solve their problems of working in South Africa illegally, Ms Sethunya said it would buy them freedom to be in South Africa for more time, rather than having to come home every month-end to renew the 30-day visas. 

“I work as a domestic worker in South Africa and not earning much. So, I cannot afford to travel home every month. I came home during the Easter holdings hoping I would go back to South Africa having been granted the three months waiver,” she said. 

MS Sethunya says working in South Africa undocumented was the hardest of all challenges she had ever endured. She said she is exposed to exploitation by employers and was always afraid that one day she would be deported or worse, jailed. 

She said she normally stays confined in the house where she works to avoid running into law enforcement officers. 

“It is quite a challenge whenever we need to come home. We have to choose between crossing at the river, which is also a risk of life, having your passport destroyed and banned in South Africa or worse being arrested,” she said. 

And on Tuesday, the Portfolio Committee on Law and Public Safety Cluster interrogated Mr Lephema about the 90 days visa waiver agreement between the two countries and why it had not been implemented by the 1st?April 2024 as agreed by the two governments. 

Mr Lephema said Mr Motsoaledi was yet to gazette the agreement to legalise it. 

He said he would follow-up with Mr Motsoaledi. 



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