SA Opposition Supports ZEP Renewal For People From Matabeleland4 months ago
The African People First (APF) opposition party in South Africa has supported Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) renewal for people from Matabeleland, citing historical connections.
This comes after representatives from the Ndebele King Bulelani Khumalo’s office, from the Mthwakazi Royal Kingdom, raised concerns about Zimbabweans facing deportation when their permits expire next month. The APF also spoke to South African Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi about the issue.
In a statement dated May 8, APF secretary-general Julie Pillay Mbuthuma said:
We are hereby pleased to give you positive feedback on the meeting held with Motsoaledi on May 8, at his chambers, spearheaded by our president (Muzi) Hlengwa, accompanied by APF deputy president Bishop Dlamini and national chairperson Bee Hlengwa.
Motsoaledi has undertaken to streamline this process. All Mthwakazi who have expired permits or permits that will be expiring shortly, have been advised to attend to renew at the kiosks provided for such purpose and to retain their slips as proof of renewal to act as a deterrent of SA Police Service (SAPS) arrests of illegal immigrants.
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Mthwakazi refers to the historical Ndebele Kingdom in Zimbabwe, named after its first ruler Queen MuThwa. Bornman Khumalo, the spokesperson for the Matabeleland Royal Kingdom, confirmed the meeting with the African People First (APF) party. Khumalo said:
What happened is that we were invited by Inkosi (King) Ngema who offered to take our immigration issues to the Zulu King. It happened that on the meeting day there was a political party called APF who in turn took interest in our matter.
Butholezwe Nyathi, the Chief Operations Officer of the African Development Consortium, informed the Southern Eye that a large number of Zimbabweans are applying for waivers. Pretoria has stated that it will not be renewing the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits after their expiration next month.
The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Visa was a special permit granted to over 200,000 Zimbabweans working in South Africa since 2009 and was called the Dispensation for Zimbabwe Permit. It allowed qualifying Zimbabweans to obtain documentation for a five-year period.
In 2014, the dispensation was extended for three years and was called the Zimbabwean Special Permit. The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit was introduced in 2017 and it was discontinued on 24 November 2021.
The South African government allowed for a 12-month grace period, which ended on 31 December 2022. The Home Affairs Department then extended the ZEPs to June 2023 and after this period, individuals who failed to successfully apply for other permits would have to leave South Africa or face deportation.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi gave four reasons for terminating the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP):
1). It was always a temporary measure,
2). DHA had a limited budget,
3). South Africa’s unemployment rate had increased, and
4). ZEP holders were violating its conditions.
However, DHA’s court papers cite the improved conditions in Zimbabwe, the need to alleviate pressure on the asylum system, and budget and resource constraints as the reasons for terminating the ZEP.
Options available for ZEP Holders:
ZEP holders cannot legally remain in South Africa without being granted one of the mainstream visas under the Immigration Act, which is challenging due to legal and practical barriers. ZEP holders cannot apply for permanent residence and must instead apply for a general worker’s visa, which requires certification from the Department of Labour. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) can waive this requirement, but its administrative incapacity and backlog of visa applications pose difficulties. The DHA extended the validity of long-term visas until December 31, 2023, but not for ZEP holders, who face challenges in applying for a waiver or a mainstream visa before the ZEP expires on June 30, 2023. Asylum seekers also face the same backlog issue, and documenting their persecution has become more difficult over time.
A number of organisations are challenging the cancellation of ZEPs. Courts are yet to give a ruling on the matter.
South African media say some Zimbabweans residing in that country have expressed fear of possible xenophobic attacks or hate crimes against them when ZEPs expire at the end of June. They also expressed concern over the lack of awareness and explanation about the non-renewal of ZEP, making them feel unsafe.