Crossing ‘River Jordan’

Crossing ‘River Jordan’

MASERU-FOR only M50, the “Butterflies” will help you cross the border into South Africa while floating on an inflatable mattress.
The “trip” across the Mohokhare River that divides Lesotho and South Africa is not for the faint-hearted though.

There have been several incidents when some people have been swept away by the raging waters.
Some women were helped to cross only to be raped after when they were on the other side of the river.
With four or five “passengers” lying on a mattress, the men from the border town of Maputsoe are seen in videos dragging the mattress across the river.
Their luggage is piled on top of the passengers.
It is a scary sight.

But that is the extent to which scores of Basotho are willing to go to leave Lesotho for South Africa.
The men who help Basotho illegally cross into South Africa in Maputsoe declined to speak to this newspaper yesterday.
The decision to risk life and limb to cross the Mohokare River on mattresses comes after the Lesotho government failed to negotiate with the South African government to ease border requirements.

To stop the spread of Covid-19, the South African government requires all foreigners, including Basotho, to produce a Covid-19 certificate showing they tested negative for the disease.
The problem, however is that such a certificate does not come cheap.
A Covid-19 certificate costs a staggering M1 350 at a private clinic in Maseru, a fortune for most Basotho who survive on less than US$2 a day.
The amount is almost equivalent to a monthly wage of a textile worker in Lesotho.

Without a Covid-19 certificate, some Basotho have chosen to cross the border at illegal points along the river such as the one in Maputsoe, risking their lives as they do so.
Last week, one woman fell off the inflated mattress and drowned.

The woman, whose name the police have not revealed, was one of hundreds who made use of the floating mattress to cross into South Africa in Maputsoe, an industrial town bordering the Free State farming town of Ficksburg.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said they have launched investigations into the woman’s death.
On Tuesday this week, the police pulled out yet another dead body out of the Mohokare River near Mokhethoaneng.
They suspect that he too had drowned while illegally trying to cross into South Africa.

The crisis at the border has sparked some soul-searching among Basotho. It has also stoked anger against the government.
Lesotho’s Home Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa told Parliament two weeks ago that he was surprised after scores of Basotho failed to cross the border despite his agreement to facilitate easier passage for Basotho with his South African counterpart.

Letsosa said he had agreed with his counterpart Aaron Motsoaledi to allow Basotho to cross the border after producing proof that they had tested negative for Covid-19 and that they were not infected.
It would appear that agreement was simply tossed out by the South African authorities.

Under the agreement, Basotho nationals crossing into South Africa would undergo rapid testing at the border.
The rapid tests would cost between M150 and M200. The certificate issued thereafter would be valid for a period of 14 days.
The tests would be done at the border posts of Maseru, Maputsoe Caledonspoort, Van Rooyen’s Gate and Ramatšeliso.

Letsosa said he was shocked when he learnt that only students, truck drivers and teachers were being allowed to cross the border.
Hundreds of Basotho who wanted to cross into South Africa were turned back at the border, leaving them with no option but to look for alternative ways such as the one in Maputsoe.
Most of those who were desperate to cross were afraid that they would lose their jobs in South Africa.

Others were cross-border traders who make a living by buying stock in South Africa for sale back home.
At least 15 percent of Basotho’s 2 million people work in South Africa. Most of them are domestic workers while others work on farms and in the mines.
The unemployment rate stands at a staggering 45 percent, forcing thousands of young Basotho to cross the border to look for jobs in Lesotho’s more prosperous neighbour.

Most of those who cross the border are desperately poor Basotho who have no options back home.
But speaking to thepost on Tuesday, Letsosa condemned the illegal crossing escapades by Basotho insisting there was “no valid reason for people to be crossing the Mohokare River instead of using proper border gates”.
He said even if the people who were crossing the border using illegal exit points had no proper documentation, they should still “go to the border and they will be helped”.

“No one would refuse to allow Basotho when crossing back home as long as they go through the border gates,” Letsosa said.
He said “expensive Covid-19 tests” should not be an excuse to risk life and limb to cross into South Africa unlawfully.
“Even those who exceeded their time of stay in South Africa should just come,” he said.
He said people will not be arrested at the borders as long as they are Basotho.

“If an individual speaks fluent Sesotho, they will not be arrested at all.”
However, Letsosa said nothing about Basotho who are still in Lesotho but want to go back to their jobs in South Africa.
The minister only addressed the issue of Basotho who are trapped in South Africa as a direct result of the Covid-19 restrictions and now want to come back home.

He said he had assembled a team of officers stationed on the side of Lesotho and South Africa to help Basotho come back home.
He advised Basotho to stop crossing illegally as it is risky.
“Should that mattress puncture accidentally they will immediately drown and die,” he said.
Letsosa said the solution might be to deploy heavy security on the river banks to stop such criminal activities.

Nkheli Liphoto

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