Zim refugees tell of registration fears

2010-12-29 00:00

THE country-wide exercise to register illegal Zimbabwean refugees has raised fears among political activists who fled that country that the database it has created could be misused to identify opponents of the Zanu-PF government.

As many as five million Zimbabweans are estimated to be in South Africa, many of them illegally. They fled Zimbabwe during its economic and political meltdown.

The Home Affairs Department has offered amnesty to Zimbabweans who are in South Africa illegally and to those who hold illegal South African identity documents. It has urged them to register with the department and receive permits that will legalise their status in South Africa.

They were given a year to register and the deadline expires on Friday, New Year’s Eve. Those who fail to register on time face deportation.

Yesterday thousands of Zimbabweans were in Home Affairs offices around the country trying to register. To date about 130 000 have registered country-wide.

In Pietermaritzburg, applicants packed the entire first floor of the department’s immigration offices with each of the five counters serving between 25 and 30 people at a time.

Some applicants came from as far away as Durban, saying the Home Affairs offices there were too crowded.

Stanley Majonga, one of the applicants from Durban, said he was certain his application would be processed before the end of the day.

He said the process is quite simple and help is readily available.

“The forms are user-friendly and anyone who went to school can easily fill these forms, and when you don’t understand, there is someone who is ready to assist you.”

Majonga said his application was delayed because he first had to apply for Zimbabwean citizenship and then a Zimbabwean passport, and the process takes a long time.“One of my parents was not born in Zimbabwe and therefore I am considered an alien in that country and hence I had to apply for citizenship which takes between three to six month and then a passport which could take about eight months.”

Other applicants, who declined to be named, said the delay in the approval of their applications might lead to their deportation, although they have applied on time.

Said one, “I applied in October and I have yet to receive any response …”

Texas Ncube, the former chairperson of the Movement for Democratic Change in KwaZulu-Natal, said that although he supports the exercise, he fears that the database could be misused to identify political activists.

“We all know that there are many refugees in the country who fled Zimbabwean politics and with the elections coming up this might leave them open to more victimisation.

“Many political activists have not been registered and fear that the database, which will contain their real names, addresses and employment, might be used to locate them and drag them to Zimbabwe to face spurious charges.”

He said the registration period is too short as many documents are required and applicants have to go back to Zimbabwe to obtain them.

Home Affairs acting head of communications Ronnie Mamoepa said the process is going well, but he could not say how many people have been registered.

Jackson Mckay, the director-general of Immigration Services, said the registration exercise is a confidential government process and anyone wanting access to it will have to apply through the Access to Information Act to prove why they need it.

Provincial police spokesperson Vincent Mdunge said that although the arrangements for Zimbabwean immigrants is a special situation negotiated by the government, the law will be applied as normal.

“We are not going to start chasing people around because that deadline has expired.”

 

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