Friday, 12 November 2021

GOVT SWEATS OVER SA SPECIAL PERMITS LAWSUIT

HARARE’S top diplomat in Pretoria, David Hamadziripi, said this week a court case filed by Zimbabwean migrants against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration over special work permit renewals has complicated an already tense situation.

Hamadziripi, who spoke as anxieties over the renewals deepened, said there had been diplomatic manoeuvres to end the uncertainties, and a decision would be announced by the South African government.

The special permits were last renewed in 2017, and are due to expire at the end of this year.

In drama-filled recent weeks, South African nationals demonstrated against the extension of the special permits, while Zimbabwean migrants on the special permits took Pretoria to court, pressing the government to declare them permanent residents.

About 250 000 Zimbabwean nationals on the special permits face an uncertain future.

But frustrations have increased because the South African government is yet to indicate whether it would renew the permits or not, Hamadziripi told the Zimbabwe Independent.

“In this case, the current permits expire at the end of next month,” Hamadziripi said. “The process has always been that the South African cabinet decides whether to renew or not. The last time they were renewed was in 2017. Their term is five years. They are due to expire in 2021. The point is that it is a decision that is actually taken by the South African cabinet.

“What has infuriated some South Africans is that we have some permit holders who have now gone to the courts asking them to direct the South African government to grant them permanent residency.

“Some of these people have been holding them (special permits) for a period long enough for them to qualify for permanent residency. But because they have these special permits, they don’t qualify and cannot be granted permanent residency.”

Pretoria has come under fierce criticism from its nationals, who last week tried to force the Ramaphosa administration to change tack.

#NoToZimWorkPermits campaign and #PutSouthAfricansFirst activist and march convenor Tshidiso Rantsa has said the push is to make sure opportunities taken by Zimbabweans are returned to South Africans.

Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association responded by filing court applications to force the South African administration to declare them permanent residents at the expiry of the document.

Other African nationals also hold the permits.

Hamadziripi said anxiety was building up because of delays by the South African government on the processes for renewal of the permits.

“The focus now is coming because the South African government should have, by now, like in the past, announced even the process that should be followed by the permit holders to get them renewed, but up to now, just over a month from their expiry, that announcement has not come,” he said.

According to South African immigration laws, Hamadziripi said, these Zimbabweans had stayed in the neighbouring country long enough to acquire permanent residency.

He said Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Frederick Shava met South Africa’s International Relations and Co-operation minister Dr Naledi Pandor in Cape Town in May this year to discuss the matter.

“The information that was given by the South African minister was that this matter was going to be discussed by the South African cabinet and a decision would then be announced at the appropriate time and that is what we are waiting for,” he said.

Hamadziripi said Zimbabweans who had taken the case to court were justified.

“This is a decision which they have every right to make and all I can say is that as the embassy, we are aware of the court action. We cannot interfere in that matter; neither can we make any comments on that,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Africans opposed to the renewal of the permits were due to march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday morning.

According to South African newspaper, The Citizen, on Wednesday, Rantsa said their march was not a xenophobic act, but a cry to the government to prioritise its own citizens.

“What kind of country issues work permits to thousands of foreign nationals when more than 75% of its own youth are sitting at home without jobs? When we try and say something we are labelled xenophobic for putting ourselves first,” Rantsa said.

He reportedly told the media that the marchers had no problem with Zimbabweans who are documented, but they wanted the government to prioritise unemployed South Africans.

“We are not attacking anyone but, like Botswana, we would really like our country to prioritise us. SA has a high unemployment rate, but we are forced to give all these struggling countries a piggyback ride. It doesn’t make sense.”

He referred to a statement issued by Botswana’s Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry on November 3 this year, which reserved certain business activities for Botswana citizens.

However, human rights lawyer Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, at the International Commission of Jurists Africa Programme, said the unemployment statistics in SA were not relevant to the issue of renewal of the permits.

She told The Citizen that at the time the permit was brought in, the asylum system could not process all of the Zimbabweans who were in the country and “an alternative means” had to be found to “ensure that they were documented and not subjected to arrests by police”.

Ramjathan-Keogh said the permit had been rolled out on multiple occasions and on a short-term basis to make sure that they could not apply for permanent residency. Zimbabwe Independent

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