Thursday, 28 January 2016, Pretoria

It’s all systems go regarding the Lesotho Special Permit, the subject for today’s media briefing. Over 400 000 Lesotho nationals stand to benefit from this initiative, and key actions to ensure operational readiness have been taken. Our teams are working very well to ensure success.

The thinking behind the initiative we explained in detail, in November 2015. This was after discussions between our two countries – the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa. The SA Cabinet approved implementation in October, last year.

In a nutshell, the purpose of the LSP is to regularise the stay of Lesotho nationals currently residing in South Africa illegally. It is meant to document Lesotho nationals who are working, studying or running businesses in South Africa, without appropriate documentation.

Consultations between the two countries, as well as with other stakeholders, were undertaken, and with success, as confirmed at today’s meeting of Home Affairs Ministers. The Lesotho Authorities assisted greatly in identifying Lesotho support groups. 

The two Governments had earlier agreed that 1 February 2016 will mark the official commencement of the programme, by which date the application process will begin. The special permit will be valid for 4 years. They will expire on 31 December 2019.

The Basotho currently have 1.2 million citizens on the National Population Register (NPR) and this is said to be on the increase as more people become aware of the LSP Dispensation.

According to authorities in Lesotho, during the past holidays, there was an increase in the number of people who returned home to register, which goes to show the excitement this has generated. This is how the Basotho Authorities have come to the current estimate that around 400 000 to 500,000 Basotho Nationals reside in South Africa today. 

IT connectivity is one of the critical areas that were considered with regard to operational readiness. There were challenges concerning direct physical line connection between the two countries. These connectivity challenges are receiving attention.

Testing of systems will continue between 1 and 29 February 2016, effectively to enable online verification of Basotho Nationals before LSP permits are processed and accordingly issued.

Areas to be tested include Online Application, Validation of NPR and Biometric Data with Lesotho, Offline Application and Information Security of Entire Application. VFS Global is assisting in these processes. 

Given connectivity challenges experienced, it is unlikely that online applications will be submitted on 1 February 2016 as originally planned. We therefore are looking at 1 March 2016.

Activities to go-live on 1 February 2016 cover,

  • The launch of an online Web Page, which will provide information on the LSP, outline the application process and inform prospective applicants when the online form will be ready for completion. It will also update applicants on appointment dates.
  • Opening of a call centre. There will be 30 call centre agents taking calls from applicants and assisting with the process as well as requirements.
  • Intensifying outreach programmes, especially targeted at prospective applicants, including the many Basotho nationals in domestic services.
  • Maximising stakeholder engagement, involving various organisations and bodies.

Activities to go-live by 7 March 2016 include,

  • Submission of online applications, and 
  • Commencement of online appointments.

The closing date for in-person applications will be 30 June 2016. 

As with the Zimbabwe Special Permit, applications will be facilitated online on the VFS Website, but the adjudication thereof will be handled by the Department of Home Affairs.

DHA is facilitating dedicated LSP Application Centres through its partnership with VFS. 

[The 10 VFS Centres to be opened are listed at the end of the Statement]. 

As earlier announced, for smooth facilitation, South Africa has granted a moratorium on deportations, until 31 December 2016. This will assist Lesotho nationals to apply in a climate that is conducive. 

An amnesty has also been extended to Lesotho nationals willing to surrender fraudulent permits or SA passports and IDs. Amnesty letters will be issued to applicants as proof.

Those who qualify are encouraged to adhere to amnesty conditions, to fast-track their applications. People will be able to apply, online, even at home. 

Benefits abound for nationals of both countries. Among other things, undocumented migrants often face all manner of abusive and exploitive situations in the hands of unscrupulous local employers, and sometimes officials, the very rot we seek to uproot, with the help of the people. These include low wages, poor working conditions, a myriad of exploitative labour practices and human rights violations. 

Applying for and getting a special permit opens doors to a fair deal for migrants who must provide goods for themselves and still cover expenses of those back home, including children and the elderly, like meeting families’ basic needs, paying school fees, transport and other costs.

In respect of South Africa, labour from the SADC region, historically, has played an important role in the economy. With the range of skills people bring into the country, labour from the SADC region has been a source of economic growth and, in some instances, job-creation. Lesotho is among countries in Africa boasting higher literacy rates, quite vital for economic growth and satisfying labour needs. 

To qualify for the special permit, the applicant must,

  • Have a valid passport or travel document
  • Be registered on the Lesotho National Population Register system
  • Have police clearance from Lesotho and South Africa
  • Provide proof of:
    • Employment (Affidavit from the employer) – to be issued with a Work Permit
    • Business registration with SARS and CIPRO – to get a Business Permit
    • Registration from an educational institution – for a Study Permit

The LSP Dispensation is being undertaken as a joint programme, with the cooperation of the South African and Lesotho Governments. It is similar in nature to the Zimbabwe Special Permit.

On a related matter, we have also agreed on easing movement for Basotho children coming to South Africa, to enable them to attend school every morning without difficulty.

Success in implementation depends also on collaboration and cooperation, including on the part of the employers. They must support those in their employ to apply. 

This works, and effectively so, as seen in the Zimbabwe Special Permit experience. Some patriotic employers aided, with all sorts of resources, their employees from Zimbabwe, to apply. They even granted time-off for people to complete the application process.

We don’t have to rely necessarily on employer sanctions for compliance with the law, particularly in the case of those persistently having in their employ irregular migrants. 

This initiative no doubt will contribute to the strengthening of bilateral and regional cooperation. It will assist better to facilitate movement while curbing human trafficking and smuggling.

On the basis of the updates we have received this morning, we are happy with successes so far. We are ready to deal with any challenges that may arise. There has been great excitement about the programme. It also enjoys the blessings and full support of our political principals. As I have said, LSP is indeed a stepping-stone for strengthening relations between our two countries. 

As my Colleague, Minister Lekhetho Rakuane, has put it, this is a brotherly, sisterly, and symbolic gesture that will remain indelibly in the hearts and minds of the people of Lesotho.