By Ciaran Ryan for Moneyweb
Children of Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders won a reprieve late last week after the SA government backed down in a case claiming many schools were preventing them from registering due to the uncertain legal status of their parents.
The ZEP system expires in June, which means permit holders are required to apply for ‘regular’ SA visas allowing them to live and work in SA. The ZEP system was introduced more than a decade ago to regularise the legal status of Zimbabweans who were illegally in SA due to political and economic hardships at home.
The ZEP Holders Association (Zepha) filed an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court last week, claiming that children of ZEP holders, who had grown up and attended school in SA, were being denied registration at a number of schools in SA.
Read: It’s back to court for Zimbabwean children denied schooling in SA
Cited as respondents in the case were the ministers and departments of basic education and home affairs.
Also cited as a respondent was Rand Park High School in Johannesburg, one of several schools claimed to have refused registration to children of ZEP holders.
Many of the students are due to write their matric exams this year, and have lost valuable time because they could not register in time.
“After an exchange of correspondence with the schools and the government it became apparent that the affected children cannot acquire a study permit, which is a requirement for registration, because their parents are ZEP holders, and the ZEP terminated on 31 December 2021,” said Zepha in a statement issued over the weekend.
The state attorney informed Zepha’s legal team on Friday that it would not oppose the urgent application, and had instructed Rand Park High School to enrol one of the students denied registration.
The state attorney has asked that the matter be removed from the court roll, but Zepha has refused, saying it wants the court to make an order that provides blanket protection for all affected students.
This is seen as a major victory for the rights of ZEP holders in SA.
“We’re obviously happy that the government has wisely decided not to oppose this application in court. Our instructions are to proceed for an order of court that will assist all affected ZEP children, and not just the few,” says Advocate Simba Chitando, who is representing Zepha in this case.
“Unfortunately there is widespread xenophobia in South Africa, even in the administrative bodies of academic institutions, coupled with confusion as to the legality of registering students without a study permit, for no fault on the part of the affected children, which is a matter that can only be resolved for the benefit of the public by a binding court order.”
Challenging the termination of the ZEP system
The termination of the ZEP system is being challenged in a separate case by Zepha, which argues that permit holders, most of them taxpayers in SA, have a legitimate right to permanent residence in this country.
Two other human rights groups – the Helen Suzman Foundation and the Zimbabwe Immigration Federation – have also challenged the decision by Home Affairs to terminate the ZEP system, arguing that it would result in hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans being deported or having to leave voluntarily. They argue this would create a human rights catastrophe across the region, as many of them have no prospect of supporting themselves or finding work in Zimbabwe.
The ZEP case against the SA government will be heard in April this year.
Chitando says Zimbabweans in SA are facing mounting persecution, particularly now as the June 2023 ZEP expiry deadline approaches.
As Moneyweb previously reported, Zepha took the Department of Home Affairs to court over a directive that threatened to lock ZEP holders’ bank accounts in SA. That directive was withdrawn in December 2021.
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There are also reports of Zimbabweans being charged as foreigners in SA hospitals, while banks have been pressuring Zimbabweans to apply for ‘mainstream’ visas ahead of the expiry of the ZEP system. Members of Operation Dudula are also reportedly approaching businesses and demanding they remove Zimbabwean employees and replace them with South Africans, while selling these jobs to locals for R2 000 or more.