Zimbabwean permit holders anxious about SA residency as deadline looms

2014-07-15 18:08

Zimbabwean nationals who were issued permits under a special dispensation for Zimbabweans in 2009 are uncertain about their future in South Africa.

About 250 000 Zimbabwean nationals’ permits are due to expire in December. So far, Home Affairs has refused to provide clarity on whether the permits will have to be renewed in Zimbabwe or in South Africa.

“The Minister of Home Affairs will in due course provide more clarity on the process to be followed and the date of commencement,” said the department.

Blue Kangausaru, who runs a bed and breakfast establishment and a restaurant in Riebeek Kasteel in the Western Cape, said this was “not acceptable”.

“[Home Affairs] need[s] to announce what is going on. We don’t know what the future holds for us. They were saying we must go and apply there in Zimbabwe, but the process takes a long time and we aren’t guaranteed permits even after the process,” said Kangausaru.

In his view the requirement that he renew his permit in Zimbabwe “didn’t make sense”. To do so, he would have to incur costs and lose income.

He added that Home Affairs might be pushing for Zimbabweans to apply for their permit renewals in Zimbabwe because “they [were] afraid 250 000 Zimbabweans [would] qualify for permanent residency”.

Currently, foreigners can qualify to apply for permanent residency if they have been on a South African work permit for five years or have received a permanent offer of employment. Some 250 000 Zimbabwean nationals who were issued four-year work permits in 2010 will qualify to apply for permanent residency should the department extend their work permits for an extra year.

City Press last week spoke to Director of People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) Braam Hanekom, who said Home Affairs might tell the permit holders to “go back to Zimbabwe and reapply” (for a work permit).

“South Africa is very aware of the implication of having over 200 000 Zimbabwean nationals applying for permanent residency,” said Hanekom.

Renewing a work permit was a “complicated issue”, because it brought “serious challenges in [an] employment sector” in which a limited number of jobs were contested.

However, Hanekom added that Zimbabweans weren’t in South Africa because they want to be here.

“Foreigners are aware of the safety risk they are taking working in SA and starting lives here, especially with regards to the xenophobic attacks. The political and economic situation in Zimbabwe forces them to be here.

“[Home Affairs] do not have a legal obligation but a moral and economic obligation to renew the documents [work permits]. There are current difficulties in Zimbabwe; it is still in economic and political crisis. There is 80% unemployment and ... those who work don’t always get paid.”

Kangausaru said that most Zimbabwean immigrants would likely not be willing to leave the country should their work permits not be extended in December.

“They will refuse to go back to Zimbabwe to renew their work permits, and overnight you will have a number of [Zimbabwean] illegal immigrants. We are here as a result of the conditions and environment in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Another Zimbabwean national who is concerned about the lack of communication from Home Affairs is Shaun Mandaza. He said he was also worried about being forced to go back home to renew his work permit.

“I don’t understand how it is going to work. You are leaving a job to go to Zimbabwe and while you are there, you have no income and the process is long. “They keep coming up with ways of not wanting Zimbabwean nationals to be here, but it won’t play in their favour. People will choose not to go,” he said.

Home Affairs has said that “it is not South Africa’s intention to reverse the benefits of the dispensation”.

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