The Zimbabwean government will begin a 20-day physical mapping exercise on March 12 to identify locals who wish to be helped in relocating from neighboring South Africa before their special work permits expire on June 30.
About 180,000 holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP), which allowed them to work in South Africa under a special dispensation, will have to return home at the expiry of the permits unless they acquire special skills visas that qualify them to stay on.
These are part of an estimated 800,000 Zimbabweans staying in South Africa, most of them illegally and surviving on menial jobs where they are often taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers.
A public notice, issued on Monday by Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Africa David Hamadziripi, said the government would help repatriate its nationals who wanted to voluntarily leave the country, as had been previously announced.
“The Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe in South Africa wishes to recall its announcement on 2 February, 2023, that the Government of Zimbabwe has taken a decision to assist and facilitate the repatriation of its nationals, holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits, who voluntarily wish to return home before the expiry of their permits on 30 June, 2023,” the notice said.
“In that regard, an in-person/physical mapping exercise will be undertaken across all the provinces of South Africa from 12 to 31 March, 2023, to identify and register ZEP holders and their dependents who may require assistance or facilitation to return to Zimbabwe,” the notice said, giving locations where the exercise would be done.
Initially, the permits were to expire on Dec. 31, 2022, but the South African government extended them to the end of June to allow holders to apply for mainstream work permits.
However, there have been reports that the number of applicants has remained low because the Zimbabweans are not sure that they can convince the authorities to keep them in the country.
One of the affected Zimbabweans said he would definitely be returning home in June because he did not possess a special skill that would qualify him for a work visa.
“Also, employers must show proof that they are paying you a salary that is in line with the standard one, for example, for a teacher. To avoid this, companies have to apply for waivers for employees. It is a complicated process,” said the Zimbabwean who declined to be named.
Zimbabweans and other foreigners have often come under attack from xenophobic South Africans who allege that they are stealing their jobs.