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SA's decision not to extend exemption permits leaves Zimbabweans 'facing precarious future'

The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit was initiated in 2017, and about 180,000 Zimbabweans applied for it. File image
The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit was initiated in 2017, and about 180,000 Zimbabweans applied for it. File image
Image: 123RF / Natanael Alfredo Nemanita Ginting

The government's decision to do away with Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEPs) for thousands of people has been met with criticism.

SA's minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele announced during a briefing on Thursday morning that the permits were being done away with.

The decision by cabinet could see scores of Zimbabweans living and working in SA having no option but to return home should they not secure work permits and other relevant documents.

Zimbabweans who hold the permit have been given a grace period of 12 months to migrate to other permits.

Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told TimesLIVE that the cabinet announcement could see thousands of Zimbabweans in SA “facing a precarious future”.

“SA should urgently and seriously reconsider because this move will mean that nearly 180,000 Zimbabweans who had been working legally and paying taxes and contributing to the economy will find themselves facing a precarious future.

 “The basis of issuing the permits has not changed and, as such, SA should not discontinue this lifeline, which will only push people underground. Instead, SA should extend and broad the scope of the special permits to enable undocumented migrants to come forward to be documented and to pay taxes and support the growth of the economy,” said Mavhunga.

ZEP was initiated in 2017, and about 180,000 Zimbabweans applied for the permit.

Advocate Simba Chitando, who is representing ZEP holders seeking permanent residence in SA, and who will be challenging the cabinet's decision, told TimesLIVE that the decision was devastating for Zimbabweans in SA and the region.

“The South African government could have dealt with the situation better, whichever way it wanted to go. They should have made the decision a long time ago, giving the holders of ZEP longer than 12 months to arrange their affairs. They shouldn’t have the 12 months grace period run at the same time home affairs is not functioning because of Covid-19 restrictions. In my view, they should have given all the holders permanent residence,” said Chitando.

On social media some people said the decision will only increase the number of undocumented migrants in SA.

Twitter user @Munashe_mb said: “Probably 5% had those exemption papers. People have always been surviving in SA without papers. The decision by ANC will only increase the number of undocumented immigrants. It was poorly calculated move.”



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