Zimbabweans in South Africa are in limbo over the fate of their exemption permits that are set to expire in December this year, as the South African government is mum on the way forward.
Although there is no official figure of how many Zimbabweans are resident in South Africa, reports said there are about 300 000 with the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs) that allow them to live and work in the neighbouring country.
The permits were first issued in 2010 under the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP). The programme was renewed in 2014 as the Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permits (ZSPs) before they were introduced as ZEPs in 2017.
Leader of the African Diaspora Global Network, a migrant-rights organisation based in South Africa, Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, said Zimbabweans had a legitimate expectation for that government to make an announcement soon so they could plan accordingly.
“The biggest challenge is these permits have been extended or rather, were actually issued for the first time in 2010. Of course now 11 years down the line, the South African government has not communicated, as to whether it intends to renew the permits or not yet there’s an expectation it would renew them,” he said.
Dr Sibanda said Zimbabweans in South Africa, who used those permits are people who have property, are employed and would be affected if the permits were not renewed.
“If the government has decided it is not going to renew those permits obviously, it would have to inform people in advance. The South African may not even rely on the fact that the permits expire in December, so people expect or start to move because of a legitimate expectation born out of the times that permits have been renewed,” he explained.
The migrant activist noted that if the South African government decided not to extend the ZEP, it ought to have informed people well in advance, perhaps a year or two before.
“They should have said this time, we are not going to renew those permits so that people can make alternative arrangements. As a result, we are looking at a situation now where people are unsure as to what is going to happen,” Dr Sibanda said.
“Even when people have lease agreements or bank accounts, will these close, end or have such contracts terminated at the end of this year, because no one will want to enter into a contact with people whose permits are expiring at the end of the year.”
In April 2009, South Africa’s cabinet approved what was known as the DZP, allowing permit holders to work, conduct business and study in South Africa.
According to Home Affairs, 295 000 Zimbabweans applied for the permit and just over 245 000 were issued.
This was an attempt to regularise the residence status of those Zimbabweans residing illegally in SA due to political and economic instability at home.
Those permits started expiring in December 2014, prompting Home Affairs to introduce a new permit scheme called the ZSPs, which were valid for three years.
Nearly 198 000 ZSPs were issued, according to the Department of Home Affairs.
When the ZSPs expired in 2017 they were replaced by the ZEPs that were issued in terms of Section 31 of the Immigration Act which allows the Minister of Home Affairs to grant foreigners the rights of permanent residence for a “specified or unspecified period when special circumstances exist” that justify the decision.