Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
A South African human rights organisation has challenged its government over its decision to cancel the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) saying there was no public consultation and little notification time urging the government to allow documented Zimbabweans to remain in the country.
In November 2021 the South African Government announced that ZEP would be terminated by 31 December 2022 to allow Zimbabweans to return home or seek other ways of regularising their stay.
About 1.5 million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living in South Africa and close to 200 000 are documented although they will soon be deported if they fail to formalize their stay by 31 December 2022.
The Helen Suzman Foundation in South Africa last week launched legal action with the High Court of South Africa challenging the decision to terminate ZEP.
“This special dispensation regime has offered legal protection to approximately 178 000 Zimbabwean nationals allowing them to live, work and study in South Africa. It has prevailed for well over a decade meaning that permit-holders have built lives, families, and careers here and contributed to South Africa and its economy,” it said in a statement.
The foundation said the decision to deport Zimbabweans who would not have managed to secure visas for their stay would leave Zimbabweans in a desperate position.
“They will be put to a desperate choice, to remain in South Africa as undocumented migrants with all the vulnerability that attaches to such status or return to Zimbabwe. There are thousands of children who have been born in South Africa to ZEP holders during this time who have never visited their parents’ country of origin,” said the foundation.
The HSF said their position is that those Zimbabweans that have scrupulously observed South African laws in order to work and live there must not have such permits terminated without fair processes, good reasons, and meaningful opportunity to regularize their status.
It argued that the requirement by the South African government for ZEP holders to have obtained other forms of residency authorization in the vast majority of cases was almost an ‘impossible requirement’.
In 2009 South Africa made a decision to implement the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project which was providing Zimbabweans an opportunity to stay in South Africa.
However, that expired on 31 December 2014 and was further replaced by the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit which was valid for a period of three years and expired on 31 December 2017. This was further replaced by the ZEP which will expire in December 2022.
It is estimated that about 180 000 Zimbabwean nationals are holders of this permit and the Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa made a decision not to extend this window despite having extended the permits in past years.
This special permit which expires in six months’ time, has given Zimbabweans a grace period of 12 months to legalise their status in South Africa through mechanisms that are provided for in terms of the Immigration Act of 2002.
According to the SHF, Zimbabweans in South Africa are still entitled to work post the December 31 deadlines as long as they provide proof of that they have made visa applications to the Visa Facilitation Services Global in the form of a VSF receipt to regularize their stay.
However, some Zimbabweans have already started tracking back home ahead of the 31 December deadline in fear of being deported if they fail to secure their extended stay in the country. -@NyembeziMu