CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Advocate Simba Chitando, who is representing about 180 000 Zimbabwean Exemption Permit holders in the Gauteng High Court in their quest to become permanent residents of SA, has received multiple death threats since the case became public knowledge.
Chitando says he has been bombarded with hate comments on social media because of the court challenge, but he says some of the more disturbing threats came from anonymous callers.
“I’ve had several death threats, and one person said he wanted to strangle me.
It’s disconcerting and is not a good look for SA, particularly given its history of xenophobic attacks in the not so distant past.”
Chitando says he has had to resort to hiring private security to ensure his safety, something he never imagined would happen.
“It’s the nature of the business we are in as legal counsel and advocates. We’re often representing people or groups who may pose a threat to some perceived interest.
“It’s not the first time I have received threats as an advocate, but this is certainly the most alarming,” said Advocate Chitando.
SA has been reported to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague in the Netherlands over xenophobic attacks against foreign truck drivers, more than 200 of whom have been murdered in recent years.
The ICC says it is monitoring the situation of foreign drivers in SA, though so far has declined to open an investigation.
The Legal Practice Council (LPC) issued a statement on Tuesday noting “with concern the xenophobic attacks on Advocate Simba Chitando who is involved in a court case regarding the issue of Zimbabwean Special Dispensation permits issued by the Department of Home Affairs.
The LPC does not condone any xenophobic statements against any of our members.
“Legal practitioners should be allowed to fulfil their mandate of providing professional, principled inter-alia impartial, legal representation to the public without fear or favour.”
The LPC says the country is still reeling from the effects of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in the recent past. These attacks have resulted in the loss of lives, displacement, destruction of property, loss of the source of livelihoods, and insecurity.
Legal process ‘must be allowed.’
While acknowledging the sensitive nature of the issue, the LPC says the court process must be allowed to run its course transparently and impartially. It also urges public members to report any instances of xenophobic attacks to the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association has asked the high court to direct the Minister of Home Affairs to issue its members with SA ID documents as they are permanent residents of SA in terms of the Immigration Act read together with the Identification Act.
Black Pharoah responded on Twitter: “We are not saying every Zimbabwean should leave but at least 10 at a time not 5 million that’s practically moving in and taking away from locals. I’d understand if most weren’t criminals but unfortunately, they are.”
“All illegal immigrants must go home,” reads another.
Human rights advocates have warned that xenophobic attacks against foreign truck drivers and others in SA could incite tit-for-tat responses in other countries against South Africans.
The SA Department of Home Affairs introduced various permit schemes to regularise the residence of Zimbabweans illegally in SA due to economic or political turmoil at home.
The court case brought by the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association says the latest permit scheme, the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits, or ZEPs, expires in December 2021 and has not been renewed by Home Affairs.
Advocate Chitando argues that the affected Zimbabweans have been in SA for 10 years or more and know no other home.
The law provides for the issue of SA permanent residence to those affected.