Friday 24 December 2021


LAWYERS representing about 180 000 Zimbabwean special exemption permit (ZEP) holders in South Africa yesterday said they were planning to mount a fresh appeal to protect their clients’ rights following the expiry of the documents next week, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.

Anxiety has gripped Zimbabweans in South Africa, with many now fearing that their children learning in that country would be affected in the absence of legal guarantees.

Court papers detailing Zimbabweans’ concerns will be lodged with the South African courts on Tuesday next week, according to Simba Chitando, an advocate representing Zimbabweans affected by a change of immigration policy in South Africa.

Ahead of the expiry of the SEP documents on December 31, Zimbabweans held a crisis meeting to discuss how they will navigate the aftermath of the deadline.

Chitando, who chaired the virtual meeting that was addressed by Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Pretoria David Hamadziripi, said ZEP holders were making frantic efforts to see how to be assisted if applications to stay in that country are turned down.

Under the plan announced by the South African government last month, ZEP holders will get a one-year grace period to regularise their stay in South Africa, after which those whose applications would have failed are required to return home.

However, there is no guarantee that all of them will be successful, and, for many of them, the thought of returning home to face an imploding economy has been difficult.

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday, Chitando confirmed that his team was mounting an urgent application.

“The court application has to do with making sure that the South African government guarantees the rights of ZEP holders after December 31, 2021,” Chitando said.

“I can also confirm that I chaired a meeting between the Zimbabwean Ambassador and leaders of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holder Association, together with other prominent leaders in both the ZEP community and Zimbabwean civil society,” Chitando told the Independent.

Media reports have indicated that Zimbabwe was engaging the South African government to find solutions that would mitigate the effects of Pretoria’s decision on the livelihoods of those affected.

“The meeting dealt with a diverse range of issues, including, but not limited to passports, Zimbabwean court orders being applied in South Africa and the rights of Zimbabwean children in South African schools,” Chitando said.

“His excellency ambassador Hamadziripi answered the questions that the leaders of the ZEP community asked,” he said.

“The community also indicated that they understood the position that the Zimbabwean government cannot interfere with the sovereign decisions by the South African government, but would engage the host government on issues that concern Zimbabweans,” he said.

“The ZEP holders are also aware of the fact that the South African Constitution is the highest law of the land; it is sovereign over that territory; and that they have a right to challenge any executive decision made by the executive branch of the South African government, which is what the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association is doing.

“The ZEP community accepted the Zimbabwean mission’s invitation to have further dialogue on any issues of concern to Zimbabweans. This includes discussions on assistance to ZEP holders who are unsuccessful with applications for alternative legal status after the ZEP, and or, in the event that the South African courts arrive at an unfavourable judgement.”

Chitando said the litigation initiated by the ZEP community will proceed at the same time as all other diplomatic and political endeavours.

He expressed confidence that ZEP holders’ rights would get protection.

The South African media on Tuesday quoted an unnamed Zimbabwean government official saying Harare respected South Africa’s decision not to renew the permits but was engaging Pretoria to find solutions to limit the damage on the livelihoods of those affected.

“It’s a sovereign decision by the Republic of South Africa to now terminate those permits, and as the government of Zimbabwe we do respect that decision to terminate.

“We have always known that there was that clause which was going to end in those permits, so we really do respect that decision by South Africa,” said a Zimbabwean official in an interview with Newzroom Afrika.

“South Africa is free just like any other country to make immigration laws for their own country and other countries are supposed to respect that decision.

“However, we are working with the South African government to minimise the disruptions to our citizens, especially in the implementation of the new regime in South Africa.”

The first Zimbabwean special dispensation started in 2009 and was called the Dispensation for Zimbabwe Permit and it provided for the documentation of qualifying Zimbabweans for a five-year period.

In 2014, the dispensation was extended by three years and called the Zimbabwean Special Permit and the current ZEP was initiated in 2017 and comes to an end on December 31, 2021.

The South African cabinet last month resolved not to extend the special permits adding that holders would be required to apply for regular permits within the next 12 months.

Zimbabweans without new permits are expected to travel back home or risk immediate deportation from South Africa.

However, organisations and individuals who are against the South African cabinet decision have argued that Zimbabwe remained a country in turmoil which continues to experience serious economic and political challenges and violence.

They further argued that the special dispensation covered a timespan of over a decade and many Zimbabweans had built their families, lives and homes in South Africa.

Approximately half a million children will be affected by the cabinet decision and the organisations argue that this could result in severe trauma through uprooting them from their lives in South Africa.

They noted that the children will be exposed to trauma and suffering in Zimbabwe while the resolution undermines the best interests of the child principle enshrined in South Africa’s Constitution.

A coalition of civil society organisations recently wrote a petition to South African Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi seeking clarification on issues including the immigration status of the ZEP holders after the December 31 expiry date.

 The CSOs also enquired on whether the 12-months grace period would be extended to those who submitted applications before December 31 but fail to receive the outcome of their applications before the end of the grace period.

The organisations also sought to understand whether former asylum seekers would be permitted to apply for asylum and what steps the Home Affairs Department would take to disseminate the information to the affected Zimbabweans.

Motsoaledi has not responded to the petition. Zimbabwe Independent


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