Holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) may not be arrested, detained, or deported during the 12 month grace period, the Department of Home Affairs has confirmed.
Cabinet decided not to extend the ZEPs, which was renewed every four years, in November last year.
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 means Zimbabwean nationals now have until 31 December 2022 to apply for alternative visas under the Immigration Act.
The gazette, which was published on Friday, indicated that no holder of the exemption can be arrested, detained, or ordered to depart for not having a valid exemption permit.
Zimbabwean nationals, the document further states, are also permitted to enter into or depart from South Africa during the grace period.
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.
In December, the urgent applications brought forward by ZEP Holders’ Association and non-profit organisation, African Amity were struck off the roll by the Johannesburg High Court.
The organisations had sought to overturn the decision not to renew the ZEPs.
Following the court’s judgement, Motsoaledi said he was “determined to defend any spurious court actions aimed at undermining the lawful and reasonable decision which I took in my capacity as the Minister of the department”.
He said, however, that his department “will acknowledge the rights of individuals and groups to approach the courts to seek remedies if they feel aggrieved”.
Meanwhile, ZEP Holders’ Association’s advocate Simba Chitando argued that the termination of the ZEPs would have dire consequences on the permit holders if they don’t apply for mainstream visas.
Under a directive released on 29 November, companies, employers, learning institutions as well as banks, were instructed to discontinue services to those in possession of the ZEPs, unless the permit holders submitted proof of their application for a “mainstream” visa.
The permits holders’ association wants Zimbabweans to be declared as permanent South African residents.
Home Affairs, however, indicated that it would only consider applications for permanent residence from January 2022.