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Zimbabwean migrant workers contribute immensely to South African economy, must regularise ZEP permits and stay — Democratic Alliance 

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By James Muonwa


SOUTH Africa’s second most popular political party, Democratic Alliance (DA) with 21.8% of votes from last week’s elections says Zimbabweans toiling in the neighbouring country must be allowed to regularise their Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) and continue contributing to national development.

In 2009, South Africa provided special dispensation for undocumented Zimbabweans affected by the crisis back home and the document evolved into what is now known as the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP).

DA Chairperson, Hellen Zille, who was speaking during a widely circulated interview, said summarily chasing away migrant workers was ill-advised.

She said laws should be scrutinised and tweaked to accommodate the estimated 120 000 ZEP holders, who have been resident in the country for a long time and should be given a chance to work on their citizenship status.

“First of all, we believe that the Zimbabweans who have been allowed to stay here on ZEP permits, they should be regularised. I mean, they have been here for a very, very long time and they have added value to our economy,” said Zille.

She highlighted that South Africa should attract foreign skilled workers and foreign entrepreneurs with financial muscle to start enterprises.

“We want to make it easier for skilled people to come here. But what l have found out, though l can’t generalise, many of the Zimbabweans I know in South Africa are highly skilled and add a huge amount to the economy.

“Skilled people add more opportunities for unskilled people than they take away. So we want skilled migration to South Africa. We want people with skills, with money and entrepreneurial leanings who would start businesses,” she said.

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The pro-business DA chairperson said blanket confiscation of ZEP permits and deportation of Zimbabweans was counterproductive.

Zille reiterated that resolving the immigration problem, which has seen an influx of Zimbabweans, Mozambiqueans, Somalians, and Pakistanis, among other nationals, is a complex and lengthy process. She underscored the need for pragmatic solutions as opposed to populist demagoguery.

More than a million Zimbabweans are living in South Africa, according to the country’s census data and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which also notes that many have sneaked into the country without proper documentation.

Not all Zimbabweans in South Africa are undocumented though.

In 2021, the Department of Home Affairs decided to end the special ZEP dispensation, but Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has since faced a litany of litigation from civil society organisations challenging the decision to terminate it. After court orders and mounting pressure, the ministry extended the permits to November 2025.

ZEP holders are allowed to work, seek employment and conduct business, but they cannot apply for permanent residence and the new permits will not be renewable.

A permit holder can also not change their status in the country and must register all their children born and staying in South Africa.