Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
The decision by South Africa’s Cabinet on Wednesday last week to discontinue the issuance of Zimbabwean special dispensation permits has raised anxiety among many locals living in that country who have until the end of next year to regularise permits.
More than 200 000 Zimbabweans are holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), which will expire end of year, with an extra year given for each holder to see if they qualified under one of the other permits.
The one change being sought is to allow Zimbabweans under the special permit to apply in South Africa rather than having to go back home to submit their applications. Under the new order, the ZEP holders have until the end of next year to secure mainstream permits or risk deportation.
Cabinet spokesperson Ms Phumla Williams said in a statement that the ZEP holders were free to apply for other permits appropriate to their particular status or situation.
“Cabinet considered the much talked about ZEP and also noted the fake news being spread on these permits,” she said.
“Following its deliberations, Cabinet decided to no longer issue extensions to the Zimbabwean special dispensations. However, it decided on a 12 months grace period at the expiry of the current ZEP.”
Observers believe that the government arrived at the latest decision following pressure from opposition politicians who blamed South African authorities of failing to manage migration issues.
It is believed that among other issues, the question of migrants affected the ANC’s performance in the recent local government elections when it lost grip on most metropolitan areas.
“This is an unfortunate decision which is going to affect many Zimbabweans without any special skills,” said Ms Praise Matizirofa.
“You will note that the special dispensation was extended to every Zimbabwean who lived in South Africa around 2009, and by then immigrants were eligible to apply.”
She said those with school-going children, mortgages, loans and pension contributions were likely to be hit hard by the development.
Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum and lawyer, Advocate Gabriel Shumba said: “While we acknowledge the grace period, we believe that a lot of families are going to be negatively affected.
“Banks, insurance companies and other sectors are likely to start terminating contracts based on the one year lapse indicated. Pensions and many other policies will be impacted.”
Adv Shumba said they were hopeful that the Department of Home Affairs would reconstitute the Stakeholders Forum to iron out a lot of cross-cutting issues.
“We are also hoping that some of the requirements for mainstream permits may be removed so that this category of Zimbabweans may find it easier to submit,” he said.
“The requirement to submit applications in Zimbabwe is also very onerous and it is one other issue which we will hope to persuade the Department of Home Affairs to reconsider.
“We also call upon our consulate to convene a meeting very urgently to map out the best possible intervention.”
Ms Tatenda Chikoto, who is into media content creation, said already, there was a lot of anxiety among her South African clients over her future.
“We respect the decision by our host, but there is a lot of uncertainty over what will be happening in the next 12 months,” she said.
“People are concerned about the fate of their properties, school children and pensions.
“Some are not sure whether their work contracts will be terminated or not because of the new developments.”
Mr Dennis Juru, the head of the International Cross Border Traders Association, said the livelihoods of Zimbabweans in South Africa and their dependants at home would be affected.
He said the hard-hit were those made to surrender mainstream permits at the introduction of the special dispensation permits, with some of them having stayed legally in the neighbouring country for between 15 and 20 years.
According to Ms Sharon Ngwenya, the decision by her compatriots to take the South African government to court over the extension of the permits was futile.
“The move has left us desperate,” she said.
“You can imagine the plight of those with outstanding loans. It seems our hosts overlooked some of these critical issues.”
South African-based independent migration consultant, Mr Vincent Williams, said the special permit was always intended to be a temporary reprieve to all holders to apply for and obtain a regular permit, which also explained the 12-month grace period.
He said although it was the sovereign right of the South African government not to extend the permits, the move would have a negative impact on many people.
“Other than a general amnesty for Zimbabweans, I don’t really see what the alternative is,” said Mr Williams.
He said it was important for the migrants to explore legal options to remain in South Africa or to make arrangements to return to Zimbabwe before being deported.
“It sounds harsh, but anyone who is deported will be blacklisted by the immigration authorities and will be refused legal entry for a defined period,” said Mr Williams.