Government faces legal action over Zimbabwe Exemption Permit non-renewal
The Helen Suzman Foundation says it will challenge government's decision in court
Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: Alet Pretorius / Gallo Images
The Helen Suzman Foundation is threatening to take government to court over its decision not to renew the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP).
In November, Cabinet decided not to extend the ZEPs, which were renewed every four years.
Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele, said at the time that a 12-month grace period would be granted upon the expiry of the exemption permit.
Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi officially gazetted the permit’s grace period two days before the 31 December 2021 deadline, after Cabinet agreed to grant the extension.
The grace period meant that Zimbabwean nationals have until 31 December 2022 to apply for alternative visas under the Immigration Act.
‘Without fair process’
But the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) has since turned to the courts in an attempt to reverse the decision.
HSF on Wednesday said Motsoaledi‘s announcement on the non-renewal of ZEPs came with “little notification and no public consultation”.
The foundation indicated that it was of the view that the Zimbabwean nationals who reside in the country legally should remain.
“They will be put to a desperate choice: to remain in South Africa as undocumented migrants with all the vulnerability that attaches to such status or return to a Zimbabwe that, to all intents and purposes, is unchanged from the country they fled.
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“There are thousands of children who have been born in South Africa to ZEP holders during this time who have never even visited their parents’ country of origin,” HSF said.
“It is not the position of HSF that those migrants who are in South Africa unlawfully should be entitled to remain, nor even that the ZEP must continue in perpetuity.
“Rather, our position is that those who have scrupulously observed South Africa’s laws in order to live and work here under the ZEP cannot have such permits terminated without fair process, good reason and a meaningful opportunity to regularise their status. It is what our constitutional order demands,” the foundation added.
Arrest and deportation
According to Motsoaledi, no holder of the exemption can be arrested, detained, or ordered to depart for not having a valid exemption permit during the grace period.
Zimbabwean nationals, the gazette states, are also permitted to enter into or depart from South Africa.
However, it provides that the holder “complies with all other requirements for entry into and departure” from the country, except if they don’t have a valid permit to do so as indicated in their passport.
No holder is required to produce a valid exemption certificate or an authorisation letter to remain in South Africa when making an application for any visas, including temporary residence visas.
Those who have failed to apply for other visas after the grace period ends will be deported.
The Zimbabwean government previously said that it respected the South African government’s decision to not renew the ZEPs.
The exemption permits were granted to more than 250,000 asylum seekers who crossed the border during Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis in 2008 and 2009.