The decision by the South African government to extend the permits of Zimbabweans working, studying and operating businesses in the country has come as a huge relief to thousands of the foreign nationals and millions back in Zimbabwe relying on remittances sent from across the Limpopo.
It ends the panic that had gripped the more than 250 000 holders of the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) ahead of the four-year document’s expiry at the end of the year.
The diplomatic row emanating from Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s outburst against Nelson Mandela, as well as first lady Grace Mugabe allegedly attacking South African model Gabriella Engels, had some panicking that the hostilities would result in Africa’s most advanced economy halting the special permits.
However, last Friday, Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize announced that South Africa would issue new permits, called the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), also valid for four years.
Mkhize said South Africa believed migrants played an important role in respect of economic development and enriching social and cultural life.
“We remain conscious of the value of this approach. For instance, these dispensations have assisted in enhancing national security and the orderly management of migration,” said Mkhize.
Mkhize was appointed to the Cabinet portfolio in March, in place of now-finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, who at the time said he was “still applying his mind” on the permits.
In an interview with CAJ News, Zimbabwe Communist Party (ZCP) general secretary Nqabutho Mabhena, who resides in Johannesburg, welcomed the decision.
“This will go a long way in protecting the migrant workers against employers who exploit undocumented migrant workers,” Mabhena said.
“We hope the Minister [Mkhize] and her government would in future consider documenting the thousands of Zimbabwean migrant workers who are not on special permits.”
Only holders of the ZSP can apply for the new permits, at a cost of R1090.
Mabhena said while the announcement was welcome, Zimbabwe’s government must revive industries to curb the exodus to South Africa where its nationals, he said, were vulnerable to abuse by employers.
Most risk life and limb crossing the crocodile-infested Limpopo River.
An estimated two million Zimbabweans, out of a population of 15 million, are residing in South Africa where they have sought sanctuary from the two-decade-long economic crisis battering their country.
Mugabe’s government is accused of partisan policies that have wrecked what was once Africa’s leading economy.
Mabhena said the ZCP was consulting key stakeholders with a view to holding a national economic dialogue, with the aim of building towards industrialisation of the new permits. The new permits come seven years after the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation permit programme.
“We applaud the decision as it brings much needed stability and certainty to people’s lives,” Advocate Gabriel Shumba, executive director of Zimbabwe Exiles Forum told CAJ News Africa in Pretoria.
“We in particular thank the department of home affairs as well as our consulate (Zimbabwe) for their untiring commitment to this project. That notwithstanding, we are dismayed by reports of arrests of those attempting to renew their asylum permits,” Shumba added.
He urged the South African government to respect international practice by re-engaging migrant stakeholders on this and other issues.
“We use this opportunity to implore our [Zimbabwe] government to extend the voter registration process to the diaspora, and to extend the vote to the millions of us outside the country. The right to vote is a fundamental one enshrined in our Constitution,” Shumba said.
The call comes months before Zimbabwe holds watershed general elections in 2018.
Zimbabwean Civil Society Organisations secretary general, Luke Dzipange Zunga, praised South Africa.
“The decision is praiseworthy and commendable in that it instils hope, dignity and empowerment of those already absorbed by local industries,”
He said the extension of the Zimbabwe permit programme showed that “where there is a will, there is a way.”
“The extension means people can continue to work where they were working and to plan their lives. It is also a recognition that all is not well in Zimbabwe. Until there is a solution in Zimbabwe, South Africa will continue to play host, whichever way the matter is viewed,” said Zunga.
Zimbabwean migrants in major cities of South Africa expressed relief.
“Personally, I would like to thank our good neighbour South Africa for the gesture,” said Zivanai Clifford Munyoro of Braamfontein.
He also appealed to Mugabe to stop ruining relations with South Africa through his intermittent attacks on Mandela and the ruling ANC.
“Just recently, his wayward wife came here to seek treatment because our healthcare system has collapsed due to his misrule. In the process, she unleashed violence against a local,” Munyoro said.
South Africa incurred the wrath of its citizens by granting Mugabe diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
“Yet, Mugabe has the guts to insult Mandela and the ANC. That was out of line for a leader who does not want to pass on the baton when all neighbouring countries have done so,” Manyoro said. – CAJ News Africa South Africa Bureau.
Savious-Parker Kwinika is Editor-in-Chief of CAJ News Africa