Unskilled Zimbabweans in quandary over South African permits despite deadline extension

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By James Muonwa

MULTITUDES of Zimbabweans engaged as domestic workers, or doing other menial jobs, remain in a quandary over their future as immigrants in South Africa after it emerged they were unsure of what exemption they could seek from the Department of Home Affairs.

Most Zimbabweans who were due for deportation at the expiry of their residence permits, commonly known as Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP), in December 2022 were given a six-month grace period to regularise their stay following a Cabinet directive freezing deportations.

In a statement Friday, South Africa Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, said the Departmental Advisory Committee (DAC) decided to extend an olive branch to affected neighbours, noting that only a few had submitted applications to renew their permits.

“With the powers bestowed upon me in terms of section 31(2)(b), read with section 31(2)(d) of the Immigration Act, decided to extend the Zimbabwean exemptions granted to Zimbabwean nationals for a further period of six (6) months in order to allow the holders thereof to apply for one or other visas provided for in the Immigration Act that they may qualify for, hereby direct that this decision should be implemented as follows, during the further six months’ period, from 31 December 2022, ending on 30 June 2023,” Motsoaledi said.

“No holder of the exemption may be arrested, ordered to depart or be detained for purposes of deportation or deported in terms of the section 34 of the Immigration Act for any reason related to him or her not having any valid exemption certificate (i.e permit label/ sticker) in his or her passport,” the minister said.


But, Zimbabwe Community in South Africa chairman, Ngqabutho Mabhena told that while his organisation welcomed the moratorium on arrests and deportations of immigrants, most affected individuals, particularly unskilled labourers, did not know how to apply for exemption.

“We welcome the extension of the grace period by the Minister of Home Affairs from 31st of December 2022 to 30th of June 2023,” said Mabhena.

“This brings a sigh of relief to holders of ZEP as the majority of them had not applied to move to other VISAs. The reason for them not to apply is because of confusion in terms of the requirements.

“Most people that are ZEP holders are people of low skill, and according to the Immigration Act, such individuals will not qualify. Even if people are asked to apply for a waiver, others are not sure what it is they should ask the Department to waiver.”

Mabhena said his organisation would take opportunity of the deportation freeze to engage South African government authorities.

“So, we believe with this extended grace period, we will be able to engage the Department of Home Affairs so it gives clarity to say ‘if a person ia of low skills working as a domestic worker or a driver in the construction industry, what assistance can they get and what are the requirements that need waiver for them to qualify for a general working VISA,” Mabhena added.

Zanu PF SA chapter spokesperson, Kennedy Mapesa Mandaza concurred with Mabhena, adding the reprieve had eased tensions amid fears of xenophobic attacks.

“It is a decision that has brought relief to many of our people who were being faced by the possibility of deportation at the end of the year,” said Mandaza.

“It has eased the tension and frustrations that we’re simmering among Zimbabweans both in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The reprieve will give the majority of the Zimbabweans to continue to seek regular permits that are provided under the South African Immigration laws.

“More importantly it gives our people ample time to repatriate their property to Zimbabwe without a lot of hustles especially now that those who may not get the permits may do so after the busy festive season.

“During this period we urge our two governments to continue to engage and find lasting solutions on the issue of Zimbabwean migrants so that we have a resolution that accommodates the concerns of the migrants.”