After months of suspense, the South African government on Friday extended the permits of 197 941 Zimbabweans working or studying in the neighbouring country for four years.
The Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP) allowed the immigrants to stay in South Africa from 2014 to December this year. As their expiry date approached, President Jacob Zuma’s government had to make a decision whether to extend the visas or not to renew them. Many of our compatriots were anxious, unsure whether Tshwane would extend them or not but on Friday, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize made a positive announcement.
Now called the Zimbabweans Exemption Permit (ZEP), the new visas allow Zimbabweans who hold the ZSP to apply for their renewal for four years starting from Friday. Applications will continue until the end of November by which time we expect all the 197 941 people to have applied and been given permission to work, study or do business in South Africa.
“Implementation of ZEP is as follows: The new ZEP project will begin on 15 September 2017. The ZEP is open for valid ZSP permit-holders only. We advise prospective applicants to submit applications online, from 15 September 2017, through the VFS website: www.vfsglobal.com/ZEP/SouthAfrica/com. Cut-off date for submission of applications is 30 November 2017,” said Prof Mkhize.
“An administrative fee of R1 090 will be charged. ZEP permits will be issued for a maximum period of four years, effective from 1 January 2018 and expiring on 31 December 2021, notwithstanding the date of application.
“Conditions of the new ZEP dispensation do not allow a holder to change conditions of his/her permit while in South Africa. ZSP permit holders who wish to convert their status to any other mainstream visa should apply timeously for such visa from within SA provided they meet all the requirements for that visa. A ZSP applicant will be allowed to travel using the ZEP receipt and the expired ZSP permit until such time as the ZEP permit is issued, without being declared undesirable.”
President Zuma’s government must be commended for taking the decision. It removes the anxiety that was obviously among some of our compatriots, many of whom have settled in the neighbouring country. It will allow them to continue fending for their families.
It is also clear that while the decision is good for our people working, studying or doing business activities in South Africa, the decision is also informed by a realisation on the part of our friendly neighbour that these people bring a lot to their host country.
Zimbabweans are some of the world’s most educated people, some of the world’s most dedicated employees who know what they do. There is something in Zimbabwean culture that makes us work hard whatever job we do, an attribute that many cultures lack. We have some of our people working in top jobs all over the world, including in South Africa. At the same time, we have some of our people doing some of the lowly jobs all over the world, including in South Africa. We have farm workers down south, we have domestic workers there. We also have accountants, journalists, engineers, lawyers, medical doctors and other top professionals.
These people are helping to make the South African economy the giant it is. Prof Mkhize realises this, which is why she announced the extension of the visa waiver.
When the four-year period expires, ZEP holders will have to apply for visas the normal way, each application being considered on its own merits like what happens to other nationals seeking to work, study and do business in South Africa. It is a harder way to secure permission to stay.
Four years isn’t too much time. They will be up soon. We remember welcoming the initial visa dispensation in these pages three years ago and it seems like it was yesterday. We therefore urge our friends and relatives resident in the neighbouring country to start preparing themselves for a possible end of the special dispensation from their host government. They must be ready to return home if they have to and not to resort to melting in the cities and live as illegal immigrants.
We know that some people don’t want to return home at the expiry of their visas because they would not have invested here. Because they are ashamed to return empty-handed, they decide to stay on abroad, playing a cat and mouse game with police. To avoid this embarrassment, we advise them to do the right thing and invest home because South Africa may not be their home for ever.
Also, ZEP holders should improve themselves academically so that they stand a better chance of convincing the South African government to give them the normal visas when the current ones expire. They would need to justify why South Africans should allow them to continue staying in their country. If they don’t offer anything special, they forfeit their chances and have to return home.
By that time, we also hope that our economic situation would have improved further to encourage some of our people to choose to return and work, study and do business here. We don’t doubt this as evidence of economic recovery abounds — agriculture is picking up and companies are stabilising. In four years’ time we should be far much better.