Zimbabweans working in South Africa whose work permits expire in December will know their fate on Thursday after Pretoria invited Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi for a meeting over the matter.
Strict new South African immigration laws have sparked confusion and panic among foreign residents in the “Gateway to Africa” and forced an estimated 250 000 Zimbabweans given work permits under a special dispensation by the South African government to decide whether to return home.
Addressing journalists in Harare yesterday, Minister Mohadi said they had not received official correspondence from South Africa relating to the expiry of the permits. He said the issue had drawn anxiety among ordinary Zimbabweans and the media prompting him to seek audience with the South African authorities.
Mohadi said the South Africans agreed to meet him on Thursday next week over the matter. “We as a ministry have not received any correspondence from the South African government that our permits have expired,” he said.
“They have not communicated to us on those lines. It is through the media and other quarters that the permits are going to expire and they are not going to be renewed and that the dispensation that we have entered into with the South Africans is coming to an end.
“Because we are pro-people, when we heard about that we decided to go and see the South Africans. We have been trying to engage them, by the time we were trying to engage them they were just from an election and there was a new minister who was still finding his feet in South Africa but he has since allowed us to see him and have conversation with him as from Thursday next week.”
Minister Mohadi said he would be in a position to give more information on the matter after that meeting. “As of now we have not much to tell you. We do not even know what the subject matter is. They will tell us,” he added.
Haniff Hoosen, from South Africa’s Democratic Alliance opposition party (DA) says “the new regulations have already ripped apart families, dissuaded investors, and led to the suspension and even cancellation of multi-million rand film and tourism ventures”.
But the most far-reaching implication may be felt by the more than a quarter-of-a-million Zimbabweans who fled the political and economic crisis at home after disputed elections in 2008. They were granted special permits that expire later this year.
According to the new laws, if they want to continue living in the country they will have to return home to apply for extensions.
“Sending 250 000 back just to extend their permits doesn’t make sense,” said Bernard Toyambi, the paralegal officer of the non-governmental organisation the People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty.
“How will they keep their jobs? How long does the process take?”
The worst fear is mass deportations if no special political deal is secured.