Zimbabweans welcome another ZEP permit’s lifeline
Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
Zimbabweans working and living in South Africa on the strength of a special three years’ permit have welcomed its extension by the host government for another two years.
South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced that his government had further extended the lifeline of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), some of which were due to expire at the end of the month and at the end of June next year.
He said under the new arrangement, the ZEP permits would expire on November 29, 2025. The approximately 178 000 Zimbabweans were entitled to apply for the new exemption permits subject to a set of conditions under the South African Immigration Act.
“The affected Zimbabwean nationals will be entitled to apply for new exemption permits under the following terms and conditions with a holder of the exemption permit will be entitled to work, seek employment and conduct business in the Republic of South Africa,” he said.
But those benefiting from the extension could not apply for permanent residence, regardless of how long they stayed in South Africa.
“The exemption permits will not be renewable and a holder of such a permit will be allowed freedom of movement between Zimbabwe and South Africa or any other country,” said the Minister.
“A holder of the exemption permit cannot change his or her status in the Republic of South Africa as contemplated in section 10 (6) of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002 during the validity of the permit issued.
“When a holder of the exemption due to expire on 31 December 2023 or 28 June 2024 or such extended period apply for a new exemption permit, he or she must disclose and register all the minor children born and staying in the Republic of South Africa”
Dr Motsoaledi said he has also issued a directive extending the validity of the exemption permits for Lesotho nationals to 31 December 2024.
Zimbabwe Exiles Forum chairman, Advocate Gabriel Shumba said the latest development was a temporary end to the uncertainty that characterised the court battles.
In June this year South Africa’s High Court in Pretoria dismissed as unconstitutional the decision not to extend the lifespan of the ZEP.
Several groups including the Hellen Suzman Foundation, the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, and the Zimbabwe Immigration Federation had taken the South African government to court following a decision to discontinue the ZEPs in 2021.
They argued that the resolution by the cabinet would negatively affect the migrants who had been in South Africa for over a decade.
“We believe this two-year relief will also assist in removing the job insecurity as employers will now know that all ZEP holders will now have legal sojourn in the Republic of South Africa until 29 November 2025,” said Adv. Shumba.
“We also appreciate the fact that those who have already applied for waivers are not required to apply anew for the two year, temporary permit that is envisaged. It is our hope that the 78 126 waiver applicants and the 10 427 other visa applicants who have complied will now be granted long term visas. We particularly urge all ZEP holders to register the children born in South Africa, as asked by the Minister.”
Adv Shumba implored Minister Motsoaledi to revisit aspects such as the fact that ZEP holders will be prevented from changing the status of their permit while they are in that country, as well as the condition barring permanency.
“Although we are happy with the temporary relief, we still believe that the Minister could have made an effort to consult as directed by the courts, and this has not happened,” he added.
A ZEP holder, Miss Mercylene Nyamayaro, said the extension was a huge relief for most of those who were losing jobs or were about to lose them because of the uncertainties on the lifespan of the permit at the end of this year
“We’re happy and hope by the end of this extension all ZEP holders will have applied for the necessary work permit,” said Miss Praise Matizirofa.
A Zimbabwean journalist in South Africa, Mxolisi Ncube said the shift from the initial position that the ZEP will not be renewed was welcome.
He said it gave the affected Zimbabweans more time to prepare their future in line with the court ruling.
Ncube said the extension of the validity of the current permits was ideal considering that Home Affairs officials were having challenges clearing applications and backlogs.
“This new temporary development gives more time to some of the beneficiaries who were struggling to put together documents needed to migrate to mainstream visas,” said another ZEP holder, Mr Lackson Ndlovu.
The Zimbabwe Community in SA, spokesperson Mr Bongani Mkwananzi said it was important for ZEP holders to use the news extension to migrate to mainstream permits using the waiver by the host government.
He said the mainstream permits had more benefits compared to the special dispensations which require a lot of political negotiations and bargaining.