Vincent Gono, Features Editor
THE Government has reaffirmed its commitment to assist thousands of Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders who are living in South Africa as the 31 December deadline for the expiry of the special permit regime beckons. An insignificant percentage is reported to have made representations to the Department of Home Affairs on why their permits should be extended, with media reports last week saying about four percent of permit holders have made applications to the South African government. Reports indicate that those who stand a bright chance to have their permits renewed are those in critical skills fields like engineering, science, health, mechanical engineering, Information Communication Technology and Finance, among others.
The expression of commitment comes amid revelations that the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa has started visiting companies and instructing them against hiring undocumented foreigners, while in some instances banks have started to deny permit holders due to expire the opening of accounts.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador James Manzou said while it was true that there has not been movement in terms of the deadline, there was continuous engagement between the two countries. He advised those facing problems in South Africa before the deadline to approach the Zimbabwean Embassy in that country and get assistance. “There is constant communication between ourselves and our South African counterparts on the issue of the deadline dates. The recent one being the Foreign Ministries Mid-Term Review Meeting of the third session of the Bi-National Commission between Zimbabwe and South Africa,” he said.
Amb Manzou hinted that they were being apprised on the developments on a day-to-day basis as they were in constant contact with the South African Embassy on various other issues including the developments as the calendar ticks towards the expiry of the permits date. “As the date gets nearer and nearer towards the expiration of the permits on December 31, we are making engagements. There has not been a change of the dates but we are saying if there are any Zimbabweans that are facing those kinds of challenges, they have to approach the Embassy in South Africa and state their cases so that they get assisted,” said Amb Manzou.
He said the Government was aware of some of the challenges that people were facing and was ready to help if approached through the Embassy. “Any help that our citizens may need they can get from there. We are ready to assist them if ever they are having problems of any kind. The Embassy in South Africa has been briefed on the situation and the South African Foreign Affairs Ministry has also been briefed on the issue,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit is a special dispensation document that was established more than 10 years ago and it provided legal protection to a number of Zimbabweans who live, work and study in South Africa.
In January this year the South African government decided that the arrangement should be terminated by December and that permit holders should apply for a visa to remain in South Africa on the basis of a list of critical skills.
In June, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) took the government to court for discontinuing the permits, saying that the decision will turn ZEP holders in South Africa into undocumented migrants and force them to return home.
However, in the court papers, Home Affairs director-general Mr Livhuwani Tommy Makhode said the minister had allowed ZEP holders to apply for visas as contemplated by the Immigration Act. Mr Makhode said a decision not to grant further exemptions had not been made. “This is clear from the fact that ZEP holders are entitled to and were invited to make representations as to why their ZEPs should not be terminated and/or why their ZEPs should be extended for a period longer than [the] 12-month extension granted by the minister,” he said.
He said only 6 000 of the approximately 178 000 ZEP holders have taken the opportunity to make representations to the minister. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) last week quoted the chief executive for the National Employers’ Association of South Africa, Gerhard Papenfus, lamenting the loss of a hard-working workforce.
“It’s very unfortunate because these are very valuable employees in the hospitality sector so business is very unhappy with this arrangement. They work very hard and are very reliable. Losing good employees is very difficult.”