Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans in South Africa under so-called Zimbabwe Waiver Permits (ZEPs) were granted clemency on Monday when the Interior Department unexpectedly withdrew the directive it issued last month requiring them to apply for what it called “conventional” visas. although the directive did not explain what they were.
The Internal Affairs directive issued on November 29 gave permit holders until December 31 to apply for alternative visas, an impossibility given the six weeks it takes to obtain the required clearance certificate from the South African and Zimbabwean police.
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This would require visa applicants to return to Zimbabwe and face not being allowed to return to South Africa after the Christmas holidays. Zimbabwe’s 10-day quarantine period would prevent permit holders from obtaining police clearance before the expiration of the ZEP in late December 2021.
The news of Home Affairs’ change of mind comes just as the ZEP Holders Association and the non-profit organization African Amity filed an urgent application with the Johannesburg High Court challenging the decision not to renew the permits.
Attorney Simba Chiendo, who represents the applicants, says the court case will continue on Tuesday.
“The oppressive directive [from Home Affairs] it has been withdrawn, one day before the Court, which is a victory, but we are still going to go to Court to decide how the main lawsuit will proceed. I would like to thank the legal team that I lead for their hard work and the leaders of ZEP for their confidence in such an important case. Much work remains to be done. We will continue until ZEP holders obtain permanent residence permits. ”
Read: Zimbabweans go to court over government decision not to renew immigration permits
In October, the Association of ZEP Holders filed an application with the Gauteng High Court to oblige the Interior Ministry to issue them SA identity documents and declare them permanent residents.
Read: Zimbabweans ask Gauteng High Court to declare them permanent residents
The Department of Internal Affairs later issued a directive requiring ZEP holders to apply for alternative visas, otherwise they could lose their jobs and be deported.
This plan was condemned by Lawyers for Human Rights for its potential to provoke a humanitarian crisis.
According to the directive issued by Internal Affairs, companies, employers, educational institutions and banks were instructed to discontinue services to those with a ZEP that expires on December 31, unless they present proof of their visa application ” conventional”. The court case now under way questions what is meant by a “conventional” visa, which the department does not define anywhere.
In an affidavit to the court, Emma Dimairho, depositing for African Amity, says that the Internal Affairs requirement for ZEP holders to apply for alternative visas was not only impossible to meet, but was “unreasonable, unfair, cruel, and neglectful. thousands of ZEP holders in danger of losing their jobs ”, as well as financial services. The Internal Affairs decision will cause irreparable harm unless the court intervenes urgently, the court request says.
The ZEPs and their predecessors were established more than a decade ago to regularize the status of Zimbabweans who were forced to leave the country due to economic and political turmoil prior to 2009.
Zimbabwe has historically been one of South Africa’s closest allies, although the relationship is reportedly under strain, in part due to political pressure on the ANC from parties like ActionSA to address illegal immigration, and the lack of government response to openly xenophobic groups calling for the expulsion of Zimbabwean drivers employed in South Africa.
Read: Foreign truck drivers attacked under cover of looting, demand compensation from SA
There are fears that this could lead to a soft trade war between South Africa and Zimbabwe, which is a key artery for the distribution of goods throughout the southern African region.
Zimbabwe could put pressure on South Africa by delaying trucks with South African license plates and applying higher tariffs on certain key South African products.