Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Visa

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The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Visa was a special dispensation permit put in place by the South African Government in 2009 to deal with a large influx of Zimbabweans who came to SA in the democratic dispensation. The permit excluded Zimbabweans from the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee acts.[1]

It was first introduced in 2009 as part of the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP).[2]

On 24 November 2021 the South African Government announced its decision to discontinue the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Visa (ZEP) but then decided on a 12-month grace period at the expiry of the ZEP on 31 December 2021.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams said at the end of the 12-month grace period, those who would have failed to successfully apply for other permits would have to leave South Africa or be deported.


Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP)

The first Zimbabwean special dispensation started in 2009 and was called the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP). It provided for the documentation of qualifying Zimbabweans for a five-year period. In 2014, the dispensation was extended by three years.

In October 2016, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa, Isaac Moyo said Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister, Ignatius Chombo had been engaging his South African counterpart to ensure that Zimbabweans living, studying and working in South Africa renew their documents with ease.[3]

It was reported that in 2014, nearly 300 000 Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa got special dispensation to get their permits and visas processed in that country without having to return home.

Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP)

On 08 September 2017, then South African Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize announced that the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) would now be known as the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP).[4]

She said that the ZEP project will begin on 15 September 2017 and is open for valid ZSP permit holders only.

The ZEP permits were to be issued for a maximum period of four (4) years, effective from 01 January 2018 and expiring on 31 December 2021, notwithstanding the date of application.

Mkhize said that applicants will be required to pay an administrative fee of R1090 and will be required to submit the following: a valid Zimbabwean passport, evidence of employment – in the case of an application for work rights, evidence of business – in the case of an application for business rights and evidence of an admission letter from a recognised learning institution –in the case of an application for study rights.

In November 2017, South Africa’s then Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni announced that the South African Government had extended the closing date for submission of applications for ZEP to 31 January 2018.

Apleini said that the extension of the deadline was due to the large number of ZSP holders who had completed the online applications.

He said the 30 November 2017 deadline was for online applications and the extension, up to 31 January 2018, was only for scheduling appointments for the purpose of submitting biometrics (fingerprints) and supporting documents at VFS offices.

On 31 January 2018, South Africa extended the deadline for submissions of ZEP applications to 15 February.

The cut-off date for making payments and submissions of supporting documents and biometrics was initially November 30, 2017, before it was extended to January 31, 2018, in the hope that those who had applied online would have made payments and submitted the required supporting documents and biometrics.

As of 29 January, a total of 176 605 applicants had completed the entire process, which included honouring their appointments and submitting supporting documents and biometrics.[5]

ZEPHA Demands SA Permanent Residency Status

In October 2021, the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association (ZEPHA), which claimed to be representing about 250 000 Zimbabweans approached the courts seeking its members to be declared permanent residents as their ZEP permits were set to expire on 31 December 2021.[6]

ZEPHA asked the Gauteng High Court to direct the Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, to issue them with South African ID documents on the grounds that they were permanent residents in terms of the Immigration Act read together with the Identification Act.

They also asked the court to review and set aside the decision by Home Affairs not to renew residency permits “knowing that the holders of the permit have known no other home besides South Africa for more than 10 years”.

The move by ZEPHA to take the SA Government to court was criticised by Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, Ngabutho Nicholas Mabhena.

Mabhena said the documentation of Zimbabweans in South Africa has always been a product of negotiations and not through litigation.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to South Africa David Hamadziripi, said the decision by ZEPHA to approach the courts worsened a tense situation after South African nationals demonstrated against a possible extension of the special permits.

Discontinuation of ZEP Permits

On 25 November 2021, South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele told a post Cabinet media briefing on Thursday that SA would not extend special permits to Zimbabweans which were due to expire on 31 December 2021.[7]

He said that the beneficiaries of the previous scheme had been granted a 12-month grace period to regularise their stay or face deportation.

Zimbabwean Embassy Response To Discontinuation of ZEP


1. On 25 November 2021, the Ministry in the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa issued a statement on the Cabinet meeting of Wednesday 24 November 2021. Paragraph 6.3 of the statement states that “Following its deliberations, Cabinet decided to no longer issue extensions to the Zimbabwean special dispensations. However, it decided on a 12 months grace period at the expiry of the current ZEP”. The latter acronym stands for Zimbabwean Exemption Permit.

2. This permit. which was due to expire on 31 December 2021, will therefore expire on 31 December 2022 on the basis of the 12 months grace period granted by the Cabinet.

3. The Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe takes note of this decision by the Government of the Republic of South Africa, a close neighbour with which Zimbabwe enjoys excellent relations.

4. The Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe urges and encourages all its nationals, and beneficiaries of the special dispensation, to comply with this decision and to cooperate in its implementation.

5. The Embassy of Zimbabwe has initiated engagements and consultations with the relevant authorities of the government of South Africa with a view to ensuring the timely dissemination of information and the smooth implementation of this decision which will impact the lives and livelihoods of thousands of individuals and households. It is the Embassy’s expectation that this decision will be implemented with the minimum of disruption to the lives and livelihoods of the affected individuals and their families.

Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe Pretoria 30 November 2021

For queries please send a message to: embassy@zimbabweembassy.co.za or zimpretoria@gmail.com

Helen Suzman Foundation

On 03 December 2021, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) pledged to assist the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Holders Association in challenging the discontinuation of ZEP.

Simba Chitando, the lawyer representing the permit holders said Nicole Fritz, the head of the Helen Suzman Foundation, had engaged them and they had agreed to work together.

On 24 December 2021, two organisations, among them African Amity, launched urgent applications in the High Court, Gauteng Division, Pretoria challenging the discontinuation of ZEP.

The court ruled in favour of South Africa's Minister of Home Affairs and removed the matters from the roll.[8]

HSF later launched its own legal action to challenge South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision to terminate.[9]

It argued that the decision will leave thousands of Zimbabweans desperate and vulnerable.

ZANU PF "Arrogance" Blamed For ZEP Discontinuation

ZANU PF’s "arrogance" when dealing with an African National Congress (ANC) special envoy delegation led by Ace Magashule to Harare in September 2020 reportedly hardened South Africa’s stance towards ZEP holders.

A report cited South African diplomatic sources as saying South Africa’s hard-line stance was inevitable after ZANU PF told Magashule to stop meddling in Zimbabwean affairs.

Soon after the ANC delegation’s visit to Harare, ZANU PF Director for Information and Publicity, Tafadzwa Mugwadi said the ANC should concentrate on fixing issues in South Africa, while ZANU PF Secretary for Administration Obert Mpofu also warned the ANC against poking “its nose in the [Zimbabwe’s] internal affairs but should focus on multiple problems affecting that country such as factionalism and inequalities”.[10]

ZEP Extended To 30 June 2023

On 02 September 2022, the South African Department of Home Affairs granted ZEP holders a grace period of six (6) months and until 30 June 2023 to lodge their applications for a mainstream visa or a waiver within South Africa.[11]

The decision was made after a recommendation for it was made by the Departmental Advisory Committee (DAC).

One reason for the extension was that the department had received few applications from Zimbabwean nationals for ordinary visas.

SA Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, however, said there will be no further extension of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) beyond 30 June 2023.[12] He said:

There will never be any other extension. If anybody doesn’t want to take advantage of this extension, after 30 June 2023, then that is the end of the whole exemption permit.

Operation Dudula

In September 2022, Operation Dudula announced intentions to approach the court to challenge the ZEP extension.

Operation Dudula national secretary-general Zandile Dabula said they had instructed their lawyers "to apply for ‘direct access’ to the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis, with an intent to prevent the minister of home affairs [from extending the] ZEP."[13]

ActionSA said, "The extension of the Zimbabwean special permit to June 2023 is, therefore, a mockery of our constitutional democracy and further chips away at the autonomy of our state and its function, especially on managing our borders."

North Gauteng High Court

In April 2023, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria heard arguments challenging South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs’ decision to terminate ZEP

The Helen Suzman Foundation, Zimbabwean Immigration Federation, African Amity and 29 others approached the courts seeking to have the termination of the permits declared unlawful.

The Pretoria High Court reserved its ruling in the battle between Home Affairs and the civil groups.

ZEP Extended to 31 December 2023

On 07 June 2023, South African Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi extended the validity of ZEP for a further period of 6 months from 30 June 2023 to 31 December 2023.[14]

The decision to extend the ZEP permits was due to the large influx of Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) applications in June 2023 VFS Global is now receiving between 1 000 – 1 500 visa and waiver applications. Motsoaledi said:


1. As you are aware, the Minister of Home Affairs (Minister) issued a directive in September 2022, extending the validity of exemption permits issued to Zimbabwean nationals to 30 June 2023. Since that time, significant developments took place.

2. The Minister has approved thousands of waiver applications for the affected Zimbabwean nationals. This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of visa and waiver applications. The Departmental Advisory Committee (DAC) led by Dr Cassius Lubisi is now dealing with the increased number of visa applications.

The Minister is equally considering and approving waiver applications on a daily basis.

3. Unlike before since May/beginning of June 2023, VFS Global is now receiving between 1 000 – 1 500 visa and waiver applications of the affected Zimbabwean nationals daily. For these reasons, the Director-General has deployed more officials to assist in the processing of the applications.

4. The Minister took into consideration the said factors, including (to a certain extent) submissions received from the affected Zimbabwean nationals, relevant officials of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and other interested parties and decided to issue another Immigration Directive, extending the validity of Zimbabwean exemption permits for a further period of 6 months, ending on 31 December 2023. A copy of the Directive is annexed hereto marked “A”.

5. The Minister’s Immigration Directive no: 2 of 2023, will be published in the Extraordinary Government Gazette tomorrow on Thursday, 8 June 2023

6. The Minister calls upon all interested parties to take into consideration the said Directive in their decision-making processes.

The Minister will be addressing a letter to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation requesting her to issue a note verbale to bring the Directive to the attention of His Excellency, the Ambassador of the Republic of Zimbabwe.


  1. Zimbabwean exemption permit extended to end-2022, Business Day, Published: 07 January 2022. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  2. Sarah Smit, Home affairs department extends Zimbabwe permits by six more months to December, Mail and Guardian, Published: 08 June 2023. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  3. Govt approaches South Africa over renewal of work permits for Zimbabweans, Pindula1, Published: 31 October 2016. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  4. SA announces new Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP), closes Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP), Pindula, Published: 08 September 2017. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  5. SA extends permit application deadline, The Herald, Published: 02 February 2018. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  6. Lulu Brenda Harris SA govt taken to court over Zimbabwean Exemption Permits, CITE, Published: 31 October 2016. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  7. Nqobile Tshili JUST IN: SA Government discontinues Zim special permits, Chronicle, Published: 25 November 2021. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  8. SA Criticises Zimbabweans Challenging Discontinuation of Special Permits in Courts, Pindula2, Published: 31 December 2021. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  9. Marvin Charles, Helen Suzman Foundation in court bid to challenge decision to terminate Zimbabwean Exemption Permit, News241, Published: 15 June 2022. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  10. Lenin Ndebele, Tension between Pretoria, Harare over expired permits for Zimbabweans living in South Africa, New24, Published: 05 January 2022. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  11. Sue-Allan Mehl, ZEP holders receive extension until 30 June 2023 to change to mainstream visas, Moving South Immigration, Published: 02 September 2022. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  12. Nomsa Mdhluli, There will be no forever extensions for Zimbabwe Exemption Permits: Motsoaledi, SABC News, Published: 03 September 2022. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  13. Kgaugelo Masweneng, Operation Dudula heads to ConCourt after Zim exemption permit extension, TimesLive, Published: 06 September 2022. Retrieved: 11 June 2023
  14. South Africa Extends ZEP Permits Expiry Deadline, Pindula3, Published: 08 June 2023. Retrieved: 11 June 2023

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