Almost 200,000 Zimbabweans living in South Africa are waiting with bated breath to hear a court decision on whether they can continue to stay in the country or will be forced to return home.
Those whose Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) have been terminated now only have 30 days left before the June 30 deadline for them to leave South Africa expires.
But how did this dillemma occur in the first place?
South Africa granted ‘special dispensation’ permits at first
In 2009, the South African government granted “special dispensation” permits for Zimbabwean nationals who were in the country illegally.
This policy was meant to regularize the status of thousands who had fled political and economic instability in Zimbabwe, mainly between 2007 and 2009. The special dispensation status was in place until November 2021 — when South Africa’s cabinet decided to cancel it altogether.
Zimbabweans living in South Africa with a special dispensation permit were given a 12-month grace period to either apply for a mainstream visa or leave the country.
Their only hope now is a legal challenge filed at the Pretoria High Court last month by various organizations.
Alternatively, they could obtain alternative permits — but that is not an easy task.
Zimbabweans need a decision sooner than later
Leaders of various political parties as well as non-governmental organizations representing Zimbabweans and campaignig for their rights in South Africa say that most would not qualify for alternative permits. This is why most Zimbabweans didn’t even bother to apply.
Now they all face some difficult questions: Should they pull their children out of school and prepare to leave? Should they sell their property and save the money for the future?
In South Africa, thousands of Zimbabweans fear deportation
Victress Mathuthu, the chairperson of The Zim imbokodo, a women’s right group, said that the prolonged wait to hear about the judgment was slowly wearing them out.
“So now we are caught in between. What do you do? Do you apply for a waiver, or do you wait for the judgment? We don’t know what we are really supposed to do. It’s very difficult,” she told DW.
Trust Ndlovu, a senior representative of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change, said the court decision needed to come sooner rather than later.
“Many people don’t know what to do next. I wish the judgment can be as soon as possible so that we can actually see alternatives” as to how “these people should plan,” he told DW.
In limbo — without access to funds
Ngqabutho Mabhena, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa organization, said that it was an incredibly serious matter and that some South African banks had even announced they would freeze Zimbabwean bank accounts,
“What we have noted is that the banks are writing to the holders of the ZEP to produce their permits and informing them that if they do not do so, they are going to freeze their accounts,” he told DW.
Simba Chitando, a lawyer representing some Zimbabweans challenging the termination of their permits in court, said the wait could be longer than expected.
He said that the legal battle could be long as his clients were prepared to fight all the way to the highest court to eventually receive a favorable decision.
“If we are successful, then the government will have to make a decision whether they are going to appeal the judgment. And obviously if we are unsuccessful, I can guarantee we will appeal the judgement, if it is not in favor of the ZEP holders,” he added.
The Department of Home Affairs did not respond to DW’s questions about the matter.
Edited by: Sertan Sanderson