Cross-border woes

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By Kabelo Mollo

Last week, I watched BNP leader Machesetsa Mofomobe make an impassioned speech to parliament about the tense or even terse relations between Lesotho and her only neighbour. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the Republic has no respect nor affinity for us and if you doubt that then you ought to only look at their actions over the last little while.

Between the machinations of operation dudula and the actual government who frogmarched a number of Basotho out of KZN and left them high and dry at the border of the two countries. He said if you were looking for indicators of how they felt about us, you need not look any further than that. It was his plea that the Republic ought shows better neighbourliness with a freedom of movement legislation and invoking a United Nations charter that encourages said movement for landlocked countries.

I’m typing this column from Johannesburg where I’ve been stationed since Monday evening. It has been the most interesting experience I’ve had in a long while. The abnormal has become completely normal. The rolling blackouts known as “loadshedding” have been ratcheted up from stage 2 straight stage 6. The president of the country is fighting for his political life owing to a scandal on his gaming and wildlife farm, in a ruling party that is a shadow of its former self.

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Meanwhile, race relations are frayed and that quiet conservative right wing that seemed to have moved to the periphery is steadily bringing its self back through new and old media while being enabled (and supported) by the likes of Helen Zille. The rand has plummeted against the dollar and the reserve bank have set new interest rates as they continue to fight inflation. The cost of living has got so high that a McDondals “Big Mac” burger is now R90. A flight ticket between Johannesburg and Cape Town will set a potential traveller back in excess of R6500. There are too many anecdotal indicators suggesting this is a difficult period for South Africa. I posit that this is not merely a period, nor a normal slump, but rather the sheen of exceptionalism wearing off.

South African exceptionalism is what in my view has led to groups like operation dudula believing that foreigners have come to steal their jobs or that parliament will never descend in to chaos or that successive presidents wouldn’t be weighed down by an albatross called corruption. The resilience of the country and its citizenry has been and continues to be tested and strained. Previously that kind of thing would have been reserved for other African countries, not the great “rainbow nation” led by Nobel laureate Tata Madiba and other luminaries like Walter Sisulu, Alfred Nzo and so on. And yet, somehow the Republic has found its self mired in the same scandalous and treacherous issues other countries have experienced post colonialism. If this sounds like a take down piece about South Africa, I assure you its not. In fact, it brings me no pleasure as this place holds a special place in my heart. I grew up here. I am from here as much as I’m from the kingdom. That’s why I have always hoped for harmonious and  healthy working relationship between the two nations.

Lately the relationship between the two seems characterised by antagonism and blatant disrespect. The South Africans will point at “Zama Zamas” and their role in destabilising peace and security in various regions across the country. While Basotho will point to the border and sometime overzealous officials, and an LHDA scheme that seems to benefit South Africa more than Lesotho. These kinds of issues require a number of remedies. Some might be diplomatic, some might be bureaucratic while others might well require basic human understanding. Either way, it serves no one having frayed relations between the two. Good neighbourliness will bring both nations prosperity and I think perhaps South Africa hasn’t woken up to that reality as they have been blinded by the aforementioned exceptionalism.

Its not long ago when then President Zuma made a throw away statement about “not some road Malawi”. His pejorative use about a neighbours infrastructure again highlighting the endemic superiority complex many in the Republic have built up. I hope this complex has ebbed enough for our leaders to return to the negotiating table in order to chart a sound new way forward.

These two countries will continue to need each other, and to this end both will do will to create and foster the cordial relations that existed as far back as Tambo and Jonathan but even as recently as Mbeki and Mosisili.

United we stand, divided, you know the rest…