SA govt on the spotlight ahead of expiration of Zimbabweans work permits




Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture Credit: Kgothatso Madisa

The Department of Home Affairs is serious about introducing the Border Management Authority (BMA) in South Africa.

It has been almost twelve months since the expiry of the special Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) was announced.

In November, the government announced the decision to discontinue the ZEP.

The looming expiration of the ZEP has many Zimbabweans fearing deportation.

This will affect some 178 000 Zimbabwean immigrants in the country.

WHAT WILL THE BMA DO?

According to the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa has been facing challenges with border control.

He cited the country’s porous borders as the reason for the special border authority being established.

The minister said the BMA sought to comprehensively control the country’s borders with support from immigration control, customs control, the South African Police Service, the South African army, the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Health.

The BMA will, thus, will have these entities operate under a single structure controlled and monitored by an overall commander which Motsoaledi said would help with accountability issues at the border.

In terms of operations, what happens at the border every day, you’ll now have a commissioner who’s going to be bugging commands. That’s the main difference we need the Border Management Authority, as against the multi-agency method which we are using, now… You’ll know exactly who to go to. You’re not thrown from pillar to post.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minster of Home Affairs

THE FORMATION OF THE 1998 REFUGEE ACT

When the Refugee Act was established in 1998, Motsoaledi says that it was formed under misinformed assumptions about how the borders need to be managed based on the number calculated at the time of its formation.

This assumption came under scrutiny after the world went into a recession in 2008 with the Home Affairs minister estimating that the number of refugees surged from 16 000 in 1998 to upwards of 200 000 in 2008 and a further 200 000 in 2009 alone.

This prompted a reboot of the Refugee Act to accommodate the evolution of the situation to deal with the shock to the country’s refugee apparatus, something Motsoaledi says has taken Parliament 10 years to pass the revised act.

It shocked the whole immigration system, the refugee apparatus, as I’ve called them. It shocked them. They were overwhelmed… The normal mechanism of dealing with refugees was overrun, it was overwhelmed… So, the Department of Home Affairs, then, said ‘no, let’s have a special dispensation outside the normal existing laws and mechanism to accommodate this present situation. It will give us time to reboot, re-plan afresh’.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minster of Home Affairs

THE MISGUIDED IMPACT OF THE REFUGEE ACT

So why was the design of the Refugee Act so unsuccessful in controlling the country’s borders?

Motsoaledi argues that this is due to the act being designed, not by South African conditions, but under the United Nations Convention of 1951 and the Organisation of African Unity Protocol of 1969. This act, he laments, was only designed four years after the establishment of democracy in the country.

The act divided incoming immigrants into separate permit sections:

  • Section 23 of the permit says that refugees entering the country without a the necessary documents cannot be arrested where refugees have up to five days to produce the relevant documentation at the nearest refugee centre.
  • Upon getting the documents, refugees will then begin a Section 22 permit which, then, gives them a document giving them three-to-six months to apply for a permit. This document is subject to renewal if the relevant documents cannot be provided within the application period.
  • Once successful, refugees are granted a Section 24 permit – which provides immigrants with international protection as an official refugee of the country.

 

All those processes were designed four years after democracy when there was no thinking of an avalanche, or a large number of people who were economic migrants. That’s why in the Immigration Act, in the Refugee Act, or even in the United Nations Convention, itself, the issue of economic migration was never mentioned. It doesn’t appear.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minster of Home Affairs

THE FUTURE FOR ZIMBABWEAN IMMIGRATION MOVING FORWARD

So what does this, ultimately, mean for Zimbabwean immigrants without legally documentation of their refugee status in the light of the ZEP?

This, according to Motsoaledi, is more complex than people may realise.

The minister laments that the ZEP is a specialised permit for Zimbabweans designed to legitimise their stay in the country.

The different conditions that may warrant a permit have seventeen different permits which provides immigrants with more than the scarce skills permit to apply for.

There are 17 different permits that home affairs can issue to immigrants. They include the scarce or critical skills visa, a study visa, a visitors visa, a relatives visa, a general work visa, a retirement visa, a temporary residency visa, and a permanent residency visa.

Motsoaledi said from January 2021 to December 2021, Zimbabwean immigrants account for 38% going to scare and critical skills visas, 25% going to study visas, 15% going to general working visas, and 14% going to relative visas.

This could possibly be the reason that the ZEP exists in the first place, which Motsoaledi advocates should give Zimbabwean immigrants something to ease their minds, particularly due to scarce skills not being the only condition for them to be granted legal immigration status.

You look at which [condition] is suitable for you… I mentioned, in January, that this is an advantage for certain people because when they were given a special permit [previously], there was a clear condition that you were not to apply for any other. Even if you get married, you can’t apply for citizenship which is unfair.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minster of Home Affairs