The red tape of South Africa’s immigration system, where officials frequently have a reputation for demanding bribes and causing long delays, has exposed desperate Lesotho job seekers to exploitation and cheap labour.

“Getting a South African permit is harder than getting a job,” said Litheko.

Lesotho is enclosed by South Africa, and thousands of its citizens cross the border daily, not just to work but also to shop or attend school.

TEXTILE INDUSTRY

The government is the largest employer, after the textile industry, which benefits from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that allows Lesotho to export goods to the US duty free.

Even if that has provided some relief, it has failed to significantly dent the high unemployment rate.

In the capital Maseru, stalls selling a wide mix of goods and services clog pavements, creating a vibrant informal sector.

Because the local loti currency is pegged to the South Africa rand, Litheko points out that migrant workers do not benefit from fluctuations in the exchange rate.

REMITTANCES

“Despite earning rand, at the end of the day, I am no different from someone who is working in Lesotho,” he said.

The African Centre for Migration and Society, based at Johannesburg’s Wits University, said statistics show that remittances — transfers of money by migrants to their home country — make up to 30 per cent of Lesotho’s economy.

“Lesotho with its weak GDP remains dependent on South Africa through remittances — and an economy that relies largely on remittances is... politically and economically weak as a result,” said researcher Zaheera Jinnah.

With long queues of goods trucks waiting to be cleared, the two 24-hour border posts bear witness to the hectic to-and-fro between South Africa and Lesotho.

PASSPORT CONTROLS

“The operation of the border has made travel easy, but you still have to get your passport stamped,” said Litheko. calling for passport controls between the two countries to be scrapped.

Faced with the flow of immigrants, South Africa in February 2016 launched a special documentation process.

The programme, which came to an end at the end of 2016, attracted over 127,000 applicants, with the permits valid until end of 2019.

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