Source: Zimbabwe-SA special permit holders edgy | The Financial Gazette January 12, 2017
BULAWAYO — Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) holders are nervous about their future in South Africa as it remains unclear whether Pretoria would renew their documents, which expired at the end of December this year.
The South African government is yet to indicate the course of action it will pursue over the expired ZSPs, causing jitters among their holders who constitute a larger percentage of Zimbabweans in the Rainbow Nation.
An estimated three million Zimbabweans are said to be in South Africa, most of them illegally.
In 2012, Pretoria issued ZSPs to allow thousands of Zimbabweans illegally working in Africa’s most industrialised economy to regularise their stay there.
The permits first expired on December 31, 2014 and were renewed the following year for three years.
Out of the 200 000 applications received back then, slightly over 185 000 were approved while the rest were rejected.
All Zimbabweans with a crime-free record were eligible to apply for the special permits. The South African Department of Home Affairs had to waive all the stringent requirements that are normally associated with acquiring a work permit in the neighbouring country.
During the time, the South African government also invited Zimbabweans, who had fraudulently acquired national identity cards and passports of that country, to surrender them and apply for the special permits without any retribution.
Ngqabutho Mabhena, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, recently circulated a notice assuring members of his association not to panic, saying in their engagements with the Department of Home Affairs they had been told not to worry about what would happen beyond December 31.
The notice indicated that Pretoria was planning a new arrangement that would see holders of the ZSP legally staying in South Africa beyond 2017.
But Migrant Workers Union of South Africa general-secretary, Mandla Masuku, said while some ZSP holders had hoped that the host country would come up with a win-win solution for both parties, many are already disturbed.
“People are beginning to panic and this can be attested to by the number of those contacting our organisation seeking clarity on the way forward,” Masuku told the Financial Gazette.
“People are not yet ready to return to Zimbabwe because they see no opportunities there.”
Masuku said chances of the South African government renewing the permits were very slim with the documents clearly written “non-renewable” as part of their conditions.
Masuku, however, said the permits could be extended to 2018 after which ZSP holders could be subjected to the normal visa regime like everybody else.
With the country’s potentially explosive elections due next year, many fear that South Africa may engage in mass deportations of Zimbabweans who are illegally staying in that country to influence the vote across the Limpopo River.
South Africans accuse migrants of putting a strain on the southern neighbour’s economy, leading to, at one stage, xenophobic attacks on foreigners.
Masuku advised the ZSP holders to behave themselves, stay away from crime and not to engage themselves in the political affairs of that country while awaiting their fate.
He also urged the affected Zimbabwean nationals to stay calm while waiting official communication from the South African government.
Bhekinkosi Mkhwebu, a special permit holder working in Johannesburg, said he and others in the same situation were now restive over the matter.
“We are now fretting because the South African government is just silent over our fate and we do not know what is going to happen at the end of it all,” said Mkhwebu.
Pretoria-based George Mkhwananzi said only a few ZSP holders were despondent.
“The skilled professionals feel trapped in this permit regime that seems to have wasted time they could have used to apply for permanent residence under normal permit regimes,” said Mkhwananzi who is also the deputy spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party.
“The majority — the unskilled ones — find security in numbers. Remember these are people who would not have qualified for any work permit in South Africa. They do not believe South Africa can be so heartless as to deport a quarter of a million people in ‘one swoop’,” Mkhwananzi noted while further indicating that a more stringent process could result in many ZSP holders failing to qualify.
“If the permits do not get renewed by 31 December 2017, the people will stay illegally in the country and I do not see the authorities successfully managing to sniff them out. It will be better for the South African government to renew those permits than to spend money deporting people who will return to the country afterwards. South Africa is, after all, benefiting from their presence in the country; it is a symbiotic relationship, despite protestations to the contrary”.
Mkhwananzi said it was disturbing that some migrants had joined the bandwagon of criticising the African National Congress-led government as if their stay in South Africa depended on their sympathy for the opposition.
“They must just work for their families,” he retorted.