Home Affairs’ plan to process mass ZEP applicants
Minister Aaron Motsoaledi believes it would be best ‘to bring it to an end and tell everybody to follow the Immigration Act and use regular visas’.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: GCIS
JEREMY MAGGS: The Department of Home Affairs has announced a further six-month reprieve until December this year for Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders. Now this follows a previous six-month exemption that was due to expire on 30 June (2023). Now this gives something in the region of 178 000 permit holders a further six months to apply for alternative visas, allowing them to remain and work in South Africa. The Home Affairs Minister is Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, he’s with us now on Moneyweb@Midday. Minister, thank you very much for joining us. So why, then have you decided on this course of action?
AARON MOTSOALEDI: We have decided to do that because in the month of May and now in the month of June, there was a sudden avalanche of applications which amounted to between 1000 to 1500 every single day, last minute applications where people were not applying before, they were ignoring it, now they’ve just woken up to realise that they ought to apply because we’re left with only a month or three weeks now and they started applying. So we need to give us time to look in and process those applications.
JEREMY MAGGS: Do you think this will be the last extension?
AARON MOTSOALEDI: Well, as I’m saying, it’s not in our hands. It all depends. But the manner in which applications are coming, I’m sure they’ll be completed. Look, Jeremy, if people applied as they were informed, I am quite sure that we [would] have finished the work because we put up structures, we put up teams, we put up mechanisms.
My own take is that because there were court cases, people were told that this is nothing, it’s going to be thrown out of the court and you don’t have to bother.
We are aware that people have been informed about that and many of them believed it.
Now, the problem is the court case came, there is no judgment. It has been reserved and now when they check they’re left with a month and there’s no judgment, they don’t know when it’s coming or when it’s going this way, and they realise that they must apply …
If you remember, I’ve heard such stories many times, even though I personally have approved thousands and thousands of waivers, which I still approve every single day, but people were made to believe that nothing is happening. So I’m sure those who received their waivers, approved waivers, started spreading the word around that indeed, there is a response to these applications. So the two factors I think made them realise they’ve got to apply.
JEREMY MAGGS: Minister, I want to quote someone called James Chapman to you who is the head of advocacy and the legal advisor at the Scalabrini Centre. He says, and I quote, the livelihoods of Zimbabweans and their dignity are being compromised by what he terms continued wavering and pivoting. Is he right?
AARON MOTSOALEDI: No, he’s not.
JEREMY MAGGS: Can you explain why?
AARON MOTSOALEDI: No, because we have set up a process to end something that I believe was the one that was doing exactly what he’s describing. Jeremy, if you go back, what was the ZEP? It was a special temporary dispensation for people who could not be processed because of very large numbers processed in terms of the normal Immigration Act, and they were given conditions which have put their lives at a standstill, which is one of the motivations why I decided that this thing cannot go on.
When people were given ZEP, there were three conditions. One, even if you have got no documentation in South Africa, please prove that you have got a job, a legitimate job with an employer confirming that.
Then you’ll be given a ZEP. If for whatever reason you are able to get a place to study at an institution of learning, even if you don’t have any documents, please prove that, then we’ll give you the document called ZEP.
Lastly, if you are involved in legitimate business. Then they were also told to come and bring police clearance, but then there was one big condition that once we give you that document, you are not allowed to apply for any other permit or visa that can make you join South Africa [sic]. Jeremy, these are permits and visas that everybody else joining South Africa from other countries are using. They said they were barred from them, which means what?
Number one, you are aware that in terms of South African law, if you marry a South African, then you can go on and apply for permanent residency and then naturalisation by virtue of marriage. Yet, it was said that you cannot apply for any other. You are aware that if you have got a critical skill, which is on the critical skills list, which we gazetted, then you can come into South Africa and apply for that job via critical skills. You are not allowed to do that.
Yet, many of these people who were given ZEP were studying. Some of them have already obtained their PhD, but they can’t apply for anything else because that was a condition. I can go on and on and mentioning all those conditions. So they’re holding them back as far as I am concerned, the best thing is to bring it to an end and tell everybody to follow the Immigration Act and use regular visas. Basically, that was the basis of the decision.
JEREMY MAGGS: Minister, not withstanding that, would you concede that life has become very hard for Zimbabweans? For instance, they have problems obtaining bank cards, driver’s licences, many are complaining that they have to spend a lot of money on making the waiver applications at huge expense. Do you have sympathy? Do you have empathy with their plight?
AARON MOTSOALEDI: Not on my account, if that is happening it’s not on my account. We actually issued letters even to the banks themselves to explain that this does not mean that anybody’s account needs to be terminated. Even now, the directive I’ve issued, if you look, one of the paragraphs … I don’t remember what number paragraph it is, where we are saying all the affected people and stakeholders must take the extension into consideration.
I’ve heard of stories that many kids are not going to school.
Let me tell you, Jeremy, long before we decided on this ZEP, I made an agreement with the Minister of Basic Education (Angie Motshekga) that no child can be barred from school on account of documentation.
Documentation is the issue which us adults must deal with, not school kids and students.
Immediately after that, the High Court in Gqeberha made that ruling that no child need to be barred from school on account of this. Many of these NGOs helping people from other countries, they know that very well. So it can’t be on our account.
Employers also, we know Jeremy, even though everybody is denying this, that employers are hiring Zimbabweans specifically to exploit them. Many of them are doing that. They don’t pay them salaries. Many of those working in restaurants are actually getting only tips from customers. Others are not getting [the] minimum wage, as the laws of the country are saying.
So some of these issues are not happening because of ZEP. They’re happening because people want to do them, and other means must be employed in order to deal with that. There’s nothing that says nobody cannot get a licence because they’re on a ZEP. There’s nothing like that.
There are many foreign people who are on ZEPs who have to get licences, and the trucking companies … It’s not about ZEP, it’s about their own problems about whether a licence can cross a border, whether a licence can come and be used here in South Africa and so on.
JEREMY MAGGS: Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, thank you very much.
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This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission.
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