Anxiety continues to build for Lesotho Special Permit holders

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The Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) is scheduled to expire on the 31 December 2023. An estimated 90 314 Lesotho nationals are on the permit which allows them to live, work and study in South Africa legally.

“I feel bad…we will be travelling with difficulty because we will be arrested because they will be asking us if our passports are up to date. So, it will be difficult for us but also, they destroy our passports at the Maseru Bridge,” says a Lesotho special permit holder.

Anxiety continues to build among the just over 90 000 Lesotho Special Permit holders who say their lives will be devastated without the document which has allowed them to move freely between South Africa and Lesotho for four-years.

South Africa serves as a magnet for migrants across SADC and the continent who turn to the democratic state in hopes for economic opportunity and a better quality of life. However, while the country represents prosperity to some, it has turned into a challenge for South African citizens as unemployment, poverty and crime soar.

In their discontent, South Africans are pointing a finger at migrants, often blaming them for the country’s current malaise and prompting the rise of anti-migrant groups. In response, government has sought to strengthen border security and cancel special immigration permits, a move which has raised concern among those who benefit from these dispensations.

“I am worried it helps us a lot, it allows me to live in South Africa freely,” says another Lesotho special permit holder, Thabiso Thubela.

The looming expiry of the special permit follows a recent South Africa-Lesotho Bi-National Commission (BNC) which gave rise to talks of a Lesotho-South Africa specific migration model.

“We were also very delighted that we were able to discuss some of the daily issues of concern around migration study and work permits for our citizens and do hope that the remaining issues will be resolved in the coming months. We also appreciate the positive discussions around the possible extension of the entry visa for Basotho into South Africa from 30 days visa per visit to 90 days visa per visit. This gesture will go a long way to resolving the cross-border movement of our people,” says Lesotho Prime Minister Sam Matekane.

However, Lesotho nationals differ, stating that the move from a 4-year permit to a possible 90-day visa will not offer any realistic reprieve.

“Three months could help but sometimes I don’t work three months only, I work the whole year. I work from January until December and that’s when I return home. So, if it is 30 days, I will have problems. I believe that the work permit is the one that will help us as it has been helping us currently,” says another worried Lesotho special permit holder.

The South African government is still smarting from its defeat in court to cancel the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP). For its part, the scheduled expiry of the Lesotho Special Permit has seen little to no resistance, with no court action challenge to date. Lesotho nationals are optimistic that South Africa’s cabinet will renew the permit in December.

“I do believe that they will renew it, I have faith that they will be merciful towards us and renew it like they did in the past,” a hopeful Lesotho special permit holder says.

South Africa will head to its 2024 general elections where the challenge of migration and foreign nationals is expected to be a source of contention in party campaigns.

The Ministry of Home Affairs was not immediately available for comment.