THE almost 200 000 Zimbabweans currently on permits issued under the Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP) project have to seek alternative permits if they wish to extend their work, study or stay in South Africa beyond 2017, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Wednesday.
“Those from Zimbabwe, as we announced last year when we announced the extension until December 2017, will, in the meantime, between now and December 31st of 2017, have to regularise themselves in South Africa by applying for other permits and visas which are provided for in the Immigration Act,” Gigaba told reporters in Rustenburg.
“The special Zimbabwe dispensation cannot exist forever. We, therefore, have to move towards a phase where we regularise them by ensuring that we provide them with visas in terms of the Immigration Act, and not through special arrangements.”
Asked what would happen to the Zimbabweans based in South Africa if they have not attained other permits by December 2017, when they special dispensation permits expire, Gigaba said he wouldn’t speculate on the matter.
“Should the end of December 2017 and we have people who have not yet regularised themselves differently, out of the Zimbabwe special dispensation, I think we will look at the matter then. I don’t want to speculate about what will happen at that time but obviously, we will look at the Immigration Act, the new international migration white paper that will have been adopted by then and we will see how we deal with those situations,” said Gigaba.
“Quite clearly, what we would like to do, to the best extent possible, is to regularise the stay of foreign nationals in our country, to documents those that qualify for documentation but otherwise the provisions of the Immigration Act will have to kick in. Those who are not properly documented will now face deportation, but it’s not something we are thinking about at the present moment.”
He said the Pretoria authorities would also look into “personal circumstances of the holders of those permits when the end of December 2017 comes.”
In 2009, the South African Cabinet approved the Zimbabwe Dispensation Project (DZP) which gave Zimbabweans working, studying or running businesses across South Africa an opportunity to regulate their stay with five-year permits. When the DZP ran it’s course, with just over 245 000 permits issued, Pretoria introduced the three-year permits under the ZSP.
“We are appreciative of the many contributions made by Zimbabweans in our society and economy. Zimbabweans have made notable contributions in our education and health sectors for example as teachers and health professionals, and in many other sectors,” Gigaba said while introducing the ZSP in 2014.
“In general, we appreciate the contribution of the immigrants in our country in terms of enhancing our social, cultural and economic life.”
Stringent application conditions for the ZSP permit applications, however, included that the applicant must have a valid Zimbabwean passport; evidence of employment, business or accredited study; and a clear criminal record.
Gigaba indicated in 2014 that ZSP permit-holders who wish to stay in South Africa after the expiry of the permits in 2017, must return to Zimbabwe to apply for mainstream visas and permits provided for, under the South African Immigration Act.
By December 2014, home affairs had received more than 207 000 ZSP applications, with the department subsequently rejecting 12,228 of the applications and approving 185 075 permits.