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‘Scrapping of permit will cause humanitarian crisis’

Zimbabweans say they were not given enough time.
Zimbabweans say they were not given enough time.
Image: Esa Alexander

With just a few weeks left until the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (Zep) expire, civil rights organisations have requested the department of home affairs to extend the deadline, warning that this was creating uncertainty for thousands of Zimbabweans in the country.

The department of home affairs initially extended the December expiration deadline of the Zep to June 30.

Come month end, about 178,000 Zimbabweans who have not applied for alternative permits like the spousal or work permits, could face deportation.

Global South Against Xenophobia (GSAX) and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) said the cancellation of the Zep has caused enormous stress on the affected and is unfair. 

GSAX convener Roshila Nair said the organisations sent a letter to the minister of home affairs Aaron Motsoaledi as well as MPs on May 26, asking for a deadline extension. 

In the letter, the organisations said the cancellation of the permit threatens status of the people, lives and livelihoods. 

“The sudden announcement on the intended cancellation by the DHA [department of home affairs] has created an imminent humanitarian crisis for them,” said Nair. 

Nair said the Zep affords Zimbabweans a life that was denied to them by the Zimbabwean economy. 

“Circumstances in Zimbabwe have not changed and the DHA’s call for them to apply for alternative permits has thus seen a poor uptake as many holders work in ordinary employment and do not qualify for special skills waivers,” said Nair.

Home affairs spokesperson Siya Qoza said the department had not received the letter.

He did not respond to further questions on the matter. 

Nair said he was surprised that they did not receive the letter but said they would resend it.

Adv Gabriel Shumba, chairperson of Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, said very few Zep applicants have been able to apply for waivers and the mainstream visas and most importantly, the deadline would force children to be pulled out of school midyear. 

We believe that it is not too late for dialogue with the stakeholders. There is a need for empathy, humanity and ubuntu to unravel this logjam which is sacrificing documented people who for years have contributed to the economy and have regularised their status after abandoning asylum in some instances,” said Shumba. 

A Zimbabwean national who asked not to be named said he grew up in his home country and that the living conditions seemed to worsen.

He said that the unemployment rate was high and so was the inflation.

He said his family only relied on his salary back home but what he made as a driver was not enough.

“The state of the country is not good. The living situation is not for everyone, not everyone can get by especially if you're the only one bringing in something for the family,” said the man. 

He said that on the first opportunity he could find and get, he took it.

He didn't have many other skills, except that he could drive. He said there was a friend who already lived in SA who managed to help him find a job. 

“I didn't have much skills but I had experience driving trucks, and through a friend of mine I heard that  there was a company looking to hire. He helped me get all my documents in order and though it was a long process, I got the job.”

The man said he has been providing for his family for more than five years and that the job he has is one that he is very grateful for. But when the announcement of the expiration of the permits was made, he didn't quite believe it and was shocked and confused. 

“I didn't understand why it was getting cancelled and the information came as a shock to not only myself but others in the community. We only had a limited time to sort everything out before our permits expired but we were lucky for it to get extended. But still the time given was not enough.” 

The man said the possibility of leaving and returning home without an idea of what to do next is scary. He said he has built a life in the country and doesn't want to leave it behind. 

“My life is here, most of my friends and family are here. Some people have not yet applied for renewal or these critical permits, some of us cannot even apply because they only want people with special skills. My skill is not special, I can only drive a truck.” 

Nair said there were three litigants that brought cases before the high court to challenge this.

Chairperson of the African Diaspora Workers Network Janet Munakamwe said the expiration of the permits doesn't only affect the holders but their families. 

“Most of these Zep holders have families, children who were born in SA and now with this cancellation, it threatens their rights because that means children will be stripped of their rights,” said Munakamwe. 

Munakamwe said some Zimbabweans may not qualify for alternative permits because of the requirements and restrictions the alternative permits have.

mashalek@sowetan.co.za

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