By Prosper Ndlovu
SOUTH Africa has no plans to scrap the special work permit scheme for Zimbabwean immigrants, officials said yesterday. South Africa issued four-year work permits to nearly 250,000 Zimbabweans – including illegal immigrants who could prove that they were employed or had a job offer – starting in 2010.
The work permits are due to expire in December this year, and many beneficiaries of the amnesty were sent into a panic after Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor was quoted as having said that they would have to return to Zimbabwe from where they would re-apply.
The development sparked conspiracy theories, with some claiming the South Africans had dishonestly used the scheme to obtain the identities and residential information of illegal immigrants.
President Jacob Zuma’s government, according to the theory, would now deport the Zimbabweans and then fill up those vacancies with South African nationals, thereby reducing numbers of the jobless.
Yesterday, the South African government moved to clarify the situation by insisting that the special work permit regime would be extended.
“It’s not South Africa’s intention to reverse the benefits of the dispensation,” the Home Affairs Department said in a statement.
The Department said the matter had been discussed in Cabinet and a decision reached “in terms of which permit-holders will be expected to re-apply for permits”. It added: “The Minister of Home Affairs will in due course provide more clarity on the process to be followed and the date of commencement.”
South Africa sold the scheme to its domestic population by saying it “enhanced national security and management of migration in South Africa and helped to mitigate the widespread abuse of Zimbabweans illegally in the country by corrupt employers and officials.”
The process of taking applications was officially completed on December 31, 2010. The documentation process was later extended to July 31, 2011, following a special request from the Zimbabwean government.
It is estimated that there are over two million Zimbabweans living in South Africa – but many snubbed the amnesty offer, fearing they would be deported.
It remains unclear if the South African government intends to re-open the process to all Zimbabweans living in that country, or will limit it to those who received work permits four years ago. The Chronicle