Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says he will not reverse the decision to terminate the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs) issued to asylum seekers when they expire at the end of this month.
There was confusion earlier this week when the Department of Home Affairs published a statement withdrawing a directive it issued last month to end the ZEPs.
However, Motsoaledi on Monday said that the government’s decision not to renew the exemption permit still stands.
“There should not be any impression that the decision about terminating the [ZEP] and then giving them a 12-month grace period to apply for other statuses… there is no withdrawal of that decision,” he said.
The exemption permits were granted to more than 250,000 Zimbabweans who crossed the border during Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis in 2008 and 2009.
Cabinet decided in November that it would not extend the permits when they expire on December 31.
According to City Press, Motsoaledi is adamant that Home Affairs will push ahead with the termination of the permits.
It also reported that South African government officials were facing pressure from Zimbabwean politicians to withdraw the decision.
Motsoaledi said if South Africa did this it would be abusing its own immigration laws.
“There’s an abuse of our systems and, if we don’t put our foot down, we’ll keep being abused forever. We’re not going to be forced to break our own laws in order to make someone else’s work easy,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s government is concerned its system will not be able to handle the large number of Zimbabweans returning to the country.
There are also suggestions that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is concerned that some of the Zimbabweans that will return are political activists that oppose his regime.
The ZEP Permit Holders Association and nonprofit organisation African Amity are also worried about the South African government’s decision not to renew the exemption permits.
Amid confusion over the withdrawal of the Home Affairs directive, the organisations withdrew their court application challenging the decision. They, however, said they were still fighting for permanent residency.
The ZEP Permit Holders Association’s advocate Simba Chitando said if permit holders don’t apply for mainstream visas they face the closure of their bank accounts, termination of their employment, loss of their places at academic institutions and other essential services.
“We are still challenging that decision and seeking permanent residency for ZEP holders,” said Chitando.
The Centre for Applied Legal Studies has also spoken out against the decision to terminate the permits. It wants the decision rescinded on “humanitarian grounds”.
“Zimbabwe remains a country in turmoil and continues to experience serious economic and political challenges and violence,” it said in a statement.
It also said that the decision will affect millions of Zimbabweans who have built families, lives, and homes in South Africa.
“Estimates indicate that up to half a million children will be affected by this decision resulting in severe trauma through uprooting their lives in South Africa and exposing them to trauma and suffering in Zimbabwe, undermining the best interests of the child principle enshrined in South Africa’s constitution.”
Additional reporting by Reitumetse Makwea