By: Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU-  The South African (SA) government has announced its decision to grant about 54 653 Basotho working in that country the exemption permits that will allow them to work in that country.

This was communicated by the SA’s Minister of Home Affairs last week, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

This move will provide some relief to Basotho whose permits are about to expire by the end of this month.

“I [Dr Motsoaledi] have decided to grant exemptions to approximately 54 653 Lesotho nationals for a period of two years. The affected Lesotho nationals will be entitled to apply for new exemption permits under the following terms and conditions;

“A holder of the exemption permits will be entitled to work, seek employment and conduct business in the Republic of South Africa;

“A holder of the exemption permit due to expire on 31 December 2023 or such extended period of validity will be entitled to sojourn in the Republic of South Africa during the validity of the exemption permit;

“New exemption permits to be issued will expire on 29 November 2025;

“A holder of the permit will not be entitled to apply for permanent residence in terms of sections 25, 26 and 27 of Immigration Act of 13 of 2002 or any other provisions in any other law irrespective of the period of stay in the Republic of South Africa,” said the SA’s Minister of Home Affairs.

The Minister further highlighted that the new exemption permits will not be renewable.

In June this year, the High Court , Gauteng Division issued a judgment where Helen Suzman Foundation and Consortium for Refugees and Migrants were first and second applicants respectively, the court declared that the Minister’s decision to terminate the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) as “unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid”.

The respondents in this case were the Minister of Home Affairs, the Director-General of Home Affairs and All the Truck Drivers Forum and Allied South Africa.

The court also reviewed and set aside the Minister’s decision to refuse to renew the permits. Effectively this is the attempt by the Minister to implement the Court’s order as doing the opposite would be contemptuous.

SA first issued special dispensation permits to Basotho working in their country in 2009 and after their expiry, they were later renewed.

Recently, Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane met with the SA’s President Cyril Ramaphosa for the inaugural Bi-National Commission (BNC) session between the two countries. 

This BNC is the result of an agreement signed by the two countries in November 2021 to elevate the bilateral mechanism from a Joint Bilateral Commission of Co-operation (JBCC) that is held at a ministerial level, to a BNC which presided over by the Lesotho’s Head of Government and SA’s Head of State.

The border movement between Lesotho and SA has been quite an issue as the latter is Lesotho’s only immediate neighbour due to her geographical location.

Basotho go to SA in search of economic opportunities and some without legal documents and this matter has been contentious between the two neighbouring states.

Lesotho is classified as a developing state, SA on the other hand is touted to be an economic giant in Africa and holds the status of a second-tier economic powerhouse.

There have previously been talks of free movement of people and goods between Lesotho and SA, however this arrangement has never been realized and lack of political will could be attributed to as a cause.