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Campaign for discharge of thousands of Zimbabwean prisoners in South Africa

Attorneys representing the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders in South Africa have sent a letter to the ministers of Home Affairs and Justice and Correctional Services Aaron Motsoaledi demanding action to facilitate the release and repatriation of Zimbabwean prisoners eligible for parole by Tuesday.

The lawyers indicated that if authorities fail to facilitate that, the matter would be taken to court.

“The release of Zimbabwean prisoners eligible for parole is within the interests of justice and would save taxpayer money,” say Zepha’s attorneys.

“Our instructions are to request that your respective departments work with the Zimbabwean Embassy in processing Zimbabwean prisoners in South Africa eligible for parole to be released and repatriated to Zimbabwe.”

Advocate Simba Chitando, who is also representing ZEP holders said, among the reasons for launching the campaign to repatriate Zimbabwean prisoners is “widespread institutionalised xenophobia.”

“As inmates they are especially vulnerable to cruel and degrading treatment because of their nationality.

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“They’ve had their goods stolen, been denied meals, refused blankets, and are regularly assaulted by both prison officials and South African inmates.

“In one specific case a Zimbabwean inmate who has served six years in prison for stealing a cellphone, who would be out on parole if he was South African, has never met his child born just after he was arrested.”

Meanwhile, more than 178,000 ZEP holders are awaiting for the outcome of their visa and waiver applications following the termination of the special program. They have less than two months before their documentation to live and work in South Africa expires.

Earlier this month, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said a Technical Committee on the Return of Zimbabwean Nationals, which was set up by Cabinet, had designed a comprehensive Repatriation and Reintegration Plan comprising three elements, namely: the Pre-Arrival; Arrival; and Post-Arrival stages.

“Cabinet wishes to assure the nation that the Second Republic has elaborate plans to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens who face an uncertain future in foreign lands and are desirous to return to their motherland.

“As the situation stands, more than 178 000 Zimbabwean nationals will require assistance, since they will be regarded as illegal immigrants in South Africa after 30 June, 2023,” she said.

“Under the Plan, facilities at the Beitbridge and Plumtree border posts have already been inspected in order to ensure preparedness for the impending repatriation task.

“The physical mapping exercise which the Technical Committee conducted in South Africa reached out to nearly 10 000 Zimbabwean nationals across the nine provinces of South Africa. The Technical Committee assisted those in need of identity and related documents,” she added.