Rush to land legal status in SA

Signage above the entrance of a regional Home Affairs office
Signage above the entrance of a regional Home Affairs office

Thousands of Zimbabweans have to queue for hours in a desperate race against time to retain their legal status in South Africa.

An estimated 200000 Zimbabweans working in South Africa use legal Special Dispensation Permits that expire on the last day of the year.

However, former minister of Home Affairs Hlengiwe Mkhize offered a last-minute reprieve, allowing them to apply for a new work permit - the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit - by November 30.

Statistics from the South African embassy in Harare show visa applications have doubled since 2014. The embassy processes an average of 6000 permits a month compared to 3000 a month three years ago.

Maria Chiyangwa, a mother of two working as a helper, said: "Things are bad back home in Zimbabwe. It's hard. I don't mind going through a struggle to extend my permit in South Africa because at least here I can get a job [to] take care of my children."

Zimbabweans seeking permits have to apply at 10 Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) centres and have fingerprints taken. But the sheer number of people still to be seen by the end of this month has many deeply concerned.

There is only one VFS centre in Gauteng. People there say they have to wait four to five hours to be attended to after scheduled appointments.

The Midrand centre sees on average more than 1800 people a day and VFS staff leave as late as midnight.

Jiten Vyas, chief operating officer for Africa at VFS Global, said: "As of third November 2017, 161304 applicants have successfully filled their forms and 121357 applicants have successfully booked their appointments [countrywide]."

Thousands of appointments must be completed by month-end. Zimbabweans pay R1090 for an exemption permit.

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