ZEP permits extension delights Zimbabweans in South Africa Home Affairs Minister Pakitshe Aaron Motsoaledi

Sikhumbuzo Moyo and Thupeyo Muleya

ZIMBABWEANS in the diaspora have welcomed the decision by the South African government to extend the validity of Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) by a further six months, to allow the holders to apply for one or more other visas and waivers provided for in the Immigration Act.

The permits were due to expire on June 30 and a number of Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa had started expressing their desire to be assisted to come back home.

Already the Government had put in place measures to allow for their seamless return.

In a statement on Wednesday, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said during the next six months, no holder of the ZEP will be arrested, ordered to depart or be detained for purposes of deportation, or deported in terms of the Immigration Act for any reason related to him or her not having any valid exemption certificate.

In separate interviews, the Zimbabweans said the latest move by Pretoria is welcome as it will allow most of them who are yet to get a response from Home Affairs another opportunity to fix their documents.

“We welcome the extension because just a few weeks ago, we and others started lobbying for the extension as the only realistic and practical way to ameliorate a pending humanitarian disaster,” said the chairperson  of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, Advocate Gabriel Shumba.

“Among the serious issues are for instance children being forced to abandon school mid-year and the difficulties associated with migration to the mainstream permits. We welcome this announcement as a humane way of approaching this unfortunate issue that punishes those who comply with legalisation and status requirements because of political considerations”. 

He also urged the Department of Home Affairs (South Africa) to urgently reconstitute the stakeholders’ forum for purposes of consultation and dialogue. 

The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa (ZCSA), Mr Ngqabutho Mabhena said the extension is a positive development as the entire process of applying for waiver and visa required more than six months.

“We welcome the extension by the Minister of Home Affairs, it was always clear to us that the entire process would not have been completed by June 30, 2023 deadline as many people were still applying for waivers. We know, a waiver is not a visa, once a person applies for waiver they then apply for a visa,” said Mr Mabhena.

“There was therefore no time for them to complete this process and as such we welcome this decision and also call upon Zimbabweans who are holders of ZEP to continue to apply.”

Mr Mabhena urged the VFS (Verification Visa Centre) to devise means of expediting the application process to avoid unnecessary delays.

“We are also calling upon those manning the Verification Visa Centre to improve their management system in receiving applications because many people have been complaining that there are no slots for submission. So, we hope that this extension will also afford the VFS to review its management system so that people do not get  delayed whenever they want to submit their applications,” he said

One of the ZEP holders, Ms Praise Matizirofa said the reprieve gives them more time to apply for other permits.

Another Zimbabwean based in South Africa, Miss Bongani Siziba said the extension  has saved them a huge headache of moving children from the schools’ mid-year and managing their funds especially those who have investments who have been in the neighbouring country for more than 10 years. She said many people risked losing their property and investments considering that many had not received any feedback on their applications and had become anxious.

“This is a relief for many Zimbabweans, especially those who had invested a lot in the last 10 years and were not sure of their fate after June 30 this year,” she said.

Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa Mr David Hamadziripi said on Wednesday that between 8000 and 10 000 people had registered with the embassy to facilitate their smooth return. 

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ministry  spokesperson, Mr Livit Mugejo told Chronicle that Government was prepared to assist and welcome returning Zimbabweans.

“All systems were ready, it changes nothing. We are going to keep on preparing to assist those who want to return. We are going to be ready to assist our citizens whenever the time comes,” he said.

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