Locals complain at leaky border

2010-02-22 00:00

THERE are fewer than 120 days to go to the World Cup, but there is still no sign of tightening security to stem the influx of immigrants through the border between Lesotho and South Africa. This despite police in the Eastern Cape having distributed three containers next to the border, meant to shelter the police who should be monitoring the area.

The containers, which each cost more than R300 000, have been standing empty for more than five months; no one seems to know why the department has taken so long to deploy police in the area.

Villagers neighbouring the border are in fear that the containers may be damaged by illegal immigrants and thieves.

They say that stock theft and dagga smuggling between the two countries is on the rise.

More than 100 cattle are stolen monthly from the districts of Maluti, Matatiele and Mount Fletcher. Every day stock thieves are seen passing right through areas where the containers are placed, driving herds of cattle.

There are no border patrols, and the barbed wire meant to separate the two countries was dumped next to Paqama (Escape) Mountain, which has become an escape route for illegal immigrants. The border follows mountain ranges.

Some people believe the reason that security is lax between the two countries is that some South Africans who were exiled during the apartheid era lived in Lesotho.

When The Witness approached Paqama Mountain, scores of young and elderly people fled with their luggage, thinking we were the police. The Witness reporter managed to stop them and they admitted they were coming from Lesotho into South Africa.

A 17-year-old boy claimed to be at school at Matatiele, but has no passport. “When schools close and open, I am forced to cross through Paqama Mountain because I do not have a passport. My parents are poor — so I want to get a free education and a temporary job in South Africa,” said the boy.

Molaoa Hlabatau Mokhantsho, chairman of the Three Sisters Peacemaker Committee — formed to ensure peace between the two countries after violence over stock theft — said the free flow between the two countries impacts badly on them as residents.

“Forty-eight of my sheep were stolen last week and the stock theft issue sometimes leads to violence, claiming lives,” he said.

He said the worst part is that the government drags its feet to deploy police as promised by the minister, Nathi Mthethwa, who visited the area last year following several complaints made to him by the residents.

“We told him that the stock theft matter has claimed people’s lives as some thieves attack stock owners and emerging farmers. It is even worse during pension days because some Basothos get their pension from Matatiele as the pension in Lesotho is reported to be paying only R100 per person”.

The local chief and deputy chairman of the Congress of Traditional leaders (Contralesa), Thembani Tyhali, pleaded with government to deploy more police at the border, saying the situation will definitely be uncontrollable this year.

“Basothos come and steal and smuggle dagga every day into our country … so how much more this year? ” Chief Tyhali asked.

He said his 10 cows were stolen last year and his people are continuously attacked by untraceable thieves from Lesotho.

Maluti Station commander Superintendent Mthetheleli Damane said they are trying to control the situation, but it is out of control.

“Containers have been sent to relevant areas. We hope everything will be in order once they start to operate,” said Damane. He was not sure when they would become operational.

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