by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG – THE euphoria that greeted the announcement by South Africa regarding the extension of permits for thousands of Zimbabweans has turned into despair for scores of the migrants who are yet to receive their documents, almost a year after the process began.
The uncertainty comes amid a lack of clarity after the exercise, which was initially anticipated to be concluded in a matter of weeks, has dragged on for 11 months.
While some of the estimated 200 000 applicants in the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) have received their permits, the wait continues for a majority who are yet to get the much-needed document to enable them to work, study or run businesses in the neighbouring country.
“This year has been a horrible one without my permit as I have lost my job at a private firm as management say I am in the country illegally,” said an applicant who declined to be named, fearing this could jeopardize his prospects of getting a new permit.
“It has been a long and frustrating wait for the document. I applied last October but there has been no progress at all. This worsens the stress from the loss of my job,” he added.
Human rights advocates this week told CAJ News Africa how some applicants had lost their jobs and bank accounts in the wake of their failure by authorities to regularise their stay in South Africa.
“The atmosphere among applicants is now one of despondency and desperation, especially as some of them are now being fired from work. Others are also having their bank accounts frozen,” said Advocate Gabriel Shumba of the High Court of South Africa.
“However, we are not aware what the reason for the delay is. Home Affairs has of late not been directly engaging with stakeholders, which poses serious problems of communication,” Shumba continued.
He added: “We have sought engagement with the Department (Home Affairs) over this and await their response. That notwithstanding, we have also raised these concerns in writing and they were sent directly to the Minister and Director General.”
Malusi Gigaba is the minister while Thulani Mavuso is the Acting Director General following the recent resignation of Mkhuseli Apleni from the unstable department.
Three ministers have been at the helm of the department since the ZEP exercise resumed last September.
Hlengiwe Mkhize, who had earlier succeeded Gigaba, was minister when the announcement of ZEP was made. Ayanda Dlodlo succeeded her last October but President Cyril Ramaphosa re-deployed her in February, paving way for the return of Gigaba.
It is believed the chopping and changing of personnel has impacted on the
conclusion of the exercise.
“We are worried about the delays in issuing out ZEP to applicants,” said Ngqabutho Mabhena, Chairman of the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa.
“We were told that the process takes about eight weeks now it has taken almost eight months (Ed’s Note: eleven months). We have engaged the manager of ZEP, who keeps on saying its work in progress,” Mabhena added.
Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) Global, the outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions, manages the ZEP applications.
The company said it would be unable to comment on enquiries by this publication as the Department of Home Affairs “cannot guarantee the outcome or the length of time an application takes to process.”
“Neither can it guarantee the return of decision within a certain timeframe,” VFS Global stated.
The company, which accepted ZEP applications at ten offices around South Africa, said this was due to the fact that applications were assessed individually and “individual circumstances” could mean processing times might vary and result in longer decision times.
“Therefore you are requested to wait until a decision on the application is taken since VFS Global does not have any control over the processing time,” a spokesperson stated.
Thabo Mokgola, the Home Affairs spokesperson, contacted for comment, said, “Kindly note that the Department will be convening a media briefing to provide a detailed update on the ZEP process.”
ZEP was put in place of the Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP), which started in 2014.
Applications for the new permit were accepted until February. The permit is issued for a maximum period of four years, effective from January 1, 2018 and expiring on December 31, 2021, notwithstanding the date of application.
South Africa first issued special permits for Zimbabweans in 2010 under the Dispensation for Zimbabweans Project (DZP), which saw about 245 000 nationals secure the permits.
– CAJ News