Lesotho nationals living illegally in South Africa have until Dec 31, 2016 to pay for the Lesotho Special Permit to remain in the country legally, or face deportation by the end of March 2017, the Department of Home Affairs (Interior) says.

Application centres have been opened at the border between South Africa and Lesotho to receive the last-minute applications, but supporting documents will continue to be received until the end of March.

In the final efforts to legalise Lesotho nationals living in South Africa, a total of 177,000 applications have been initiated, 83,000 permits have been paid for and 43,000 permits have been issued.

Home Affairs Director-General Mkhuseli Apleni says: “People must have applied and paid by Dec 31, 2016 to avoid being illegal in South Africa. Beyond this date, money will be refunded where the application process is incomplete and deportations will kick in for those found in the country without enabling documents legalising their stay.”

For now, a Lesotho birth certificate and an application fee of 970 Rand (about 70 US dollars) have to be paid but by the end of March other documents have to be provided.

A Lesotho Home Affairs lawyer, Borenahabokhete Sekonyela, says: “What is important is that these facilities are at the border, even those who do not have any documents we have even our staff on the Lesotho borders who can be able to register them and give them birth certificates and IDs.”

Those who have not paid by the end of the month will not get another opportunity. Apleni says: “It is a big No if you do not apply, I want to be clear again. If you don’t apply by Dec 31, you are out. If we catch you in South Africa, there is no reason for you to be there without a document. We don’t want to be a banana republic, equally Lesotho does not want to be one.”

Lesotho nationals living illegally in South Africa have two weeks to make payments to secure the opportunity to acquire the Lesotho special permit, or to surrender fraudulently acquired identity documents. The deadline has already been extended twice and will not be extended again.