About 180,000 Zimbabweans in SA face uncertain future

The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit lapses in December and the South African government has not indicated if it will renew it

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Photo of Home Affairs office

The South African government has not yet indicated whether it will renew the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits which lapse in December. Archive photo: Home Affairs offices in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth, by Joseph Chirume

  • The four-year Zimbabwe Exemption Permit lapses in December and the South African government has not yet indicated if it will renew it.
  • About 180,000 Zimbabweans in the country are affected.
  • Financial institutions have warned that they will be obliged to freeze accounts if the permits are not renewed.
  • Holders of ZEPs who have been in the country for many years argue they should get citizenship.

Thousands of holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) are living in uncertainty because the South African government has not yet indicated whether it will renew their permits. About 180,000 Zimbabweans hold ZEPs. The four-year permit expires on 31 December 2021.

Some Zimbabweans said their banks had already warned them to renew their permits or face closure of their accounts in December.

The permits were first issued in 2010 under the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (ZDP). The programme was renewed in 2014 as the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP), before the ZEP was introduced in 2017.

A Zimbabwean, who we will only identify as Matthew, said he can’t make plans for the future. He is a supervisor at a restaurant and lives in New Brighton with his wife and two children. He has been living in South Africa for 20 years.

“I started with an asylum seeker permit before I got the ZDP, ZSP and the ZEP. I have lived in this country for the better part of my adult life. It will be heartbreaking if the government refuses to renew the permits.

“I have two bank accounts and insurance as well as burial policies. These will all go down the drain if the government refuses to extend the permits.”

He said he is established in the community and his children speak fluent Xhosa. “They identify themselves with local culture because they were born here,” he said.

Another ZEP holder said South Africa should grant citizenship to those who have lived legally in the country for five or more years.

“Some people have invested a lot in the country. Others have bought immovable property, which they will be forced to leave,” he said.

Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Migrants Support Network Chris Mapingure said, “We appeal to the Department of Home Affairs to issue a statement regarding the renewal of the ZEP.”

Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum Advocate Gabriel Shumba said he is receiving an unprecedented number of enquiries from concerned permit holders.

“It is an issue that seriously affects thousands of Zimbabweans, especially with some banks threatening to close accounts.”

Home Affairs spokespersons Siya Qoza and David Hlabane have not responded to GroundUp’s queries.

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TOPICS:  Immigration Zimbabwe Permit

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I am a holder of the above-mentioned permit, from the look of things it appears as the Government of South Africa is not willing to renew our permits. Normally by this time we used to have started applying for the permits. My worry is that if they are not willing to renew our permits, why are not advising us so that we will be able to plan our future? The other thing is if they just stop renewing the permits, most clothing shops, furniture stores and some banks will be crying foul as some of us have huge credits with the institutions. There is no way one receives his or her final payment from an employer knowing that he is no longer in South Africa and opt to pay debts. I should be happy if South Africa Home Affairs Minister would advise us of the position regarding our future here in South Africa. We are ready to go back home if they no longer want us in their country.

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