Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

SA says Zimbabwe permit deadline ‘stays’

By Nastasya Tay

A looming backlog of applications for residence permits from Zimbabweans living illegally in SA and wanting to regularise their stay will not spur the Department of Home Affairs to extend the December 31 deadline, despite it having dealt with less than a quarter of applications submitted.

“We are steadfast that we are going to retain the deadline … we are not going to move away from it at all,” Deputy Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said in Pretoria yesterday.

The department said that by close of business last Monday, 10287 applications had been submitted, 2126 of which had been approved, and 174 rejected. Academics estimate there are 1,5-million Zimbabweans living in SA.

Gabriel Shumba of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum says more than half of that number will need special permits. “If you’re conservative,” Shumba said. If that number is accurate then out of 750000 possible applicants, only 0,3% have had their applications assessed so far, since the programme was launched on September 20.

“At the current rate of processing, this will take many, many more months,” said Jacob van Garderen, director of Lawyers for Human Rights, a civil society group advocating for the deadline to be extended.

“Even if we were looking at numbers of 100000-200000 people, it would still take the better part of next year to deal with them. The end of next year would be a much more realistic deadline,” Mr van Garderen said. Despite the long queues outside the department’s regional offices, Mr Gigaba said that numbers to date have been low, relative to the population.

But he acknowledged that despite the lower than expected turnout, people are waiting for long periods to be seen. Some of them have taken to sleeping outside Home Affairs offices. Mr Gigaba attributed the low turnout to several factors, including applicants having difficulty obtaining supporting documentation, especially Zimbabwean passports. There was also a separate asylum seeker process, not related to the application process for these new permits.

The number of applicants is expected to increase substantially. “We are not worried about this. We are confident that we will be able to deal with it,” said Mr Gigaba. The department will reopen an office on Market Street in Johannesburg to deal with the large volume of applicants, he said.

Mr Gigaba also promised employers that they will not be penalised for hiring illegal Zimbabwean workers. “The process is not about the employers. It is about regularising their employees,” he said. Earlier this week, Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma welcomed the positive response from Zimbabweans.

“We are inspired by the large volumes of Zimbabwean nationals taking advantage of the South African government’s offer to regularise their stay, to live in dignity in SA and to end the misery of living under the cloud of uncertainty and vulnerability,” she said.

Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change is not planning to take the department to court to extend the deadline, but is co- operating with the department “in an effort to give Zimbabweans their correct papers”, a party spokesman said yesterday. Business Day/ Sapa