By Neo Kolane
The minister of home Affairs, Motlalentoa Letsosa, is going around the country assessing the readiness of immigration offices to cope with the huge volume travellers during the festive season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week Letsosa visited Maputsoe Bridge. Maputsoe is an industrial town located in the northern district of Leribe in Lesotho; it shares a border-post with Ficksburg in the eastern Free State. It has a population of 55 541.
The Chief Immigrations Officer at Maputsoe Bridge, Tatolo Motlolo, said they are facing challenges of people crossing into Lesotho without passports, which they claim got burnt in shack fires in South Africa.
“As a result, we have to go out of our way to verify if they really are Basotho. We have to ask them a few questions, from the chief of their village to their councilors.
“Another challenge is that of screening people. If you look at the building we work from, the health portal is quite a distance from the immigration portal. Also, the set-up of here makes it easy for people to evade the screening. The security personnel help us forcing such people to go back and get screened, and that causes a great deal of congestion.
“Normally, the number of people entering the country is just too high; sometimes it’s up to 50 000 people a day, but this year the number has dropped. As for those who leave the country, the number is sometimes as low as 30 people a day,” Motlolo said.
Minister Letsosa gave a reassurance that Home Affairs is ready to welcome people crossing into the country.
Video clips went viral in recent weeks, of desperate Basotho crossing the overflowing Mohokare River on inflatable mattresses at Maputsoe, and Letsosa called on such people to use the legal entry points without any fear.
“Basotho whose Special Permits and contracts expired during the COVID-19 lockdown should come home as they will be allowed to cross regardless. There’s no Mosotho who has been arrested by immigration officers at either Maputsoe Bridge or Maseru Bridge, contrary to ongoing rumours of returning Basotho being detained at Maseru.
“Additional personnel will be deployed temporarily at the borders to speed up services at these border gates.
“There is mounting confusion regarding border crossing. Home affairs is responsible for passports passport control and the ministry of health for Covid tests and screening.”