The decision by Home Affairs, in South Africa has plunged many Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders into a state of anxiety as they face the very real possibility of losing their jobs, having their bank accounts closed and being deported.
Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans working in South Africa could find themselves out of work, without bank accounts, or unable to return to SA after the December break.
There is a lot of confusion with regards ZEP’s after several reports and counter reports have been issued.
Amidst all this confusion and lack of clarity on what this all means, are the permits not going to be renewed? Is the provision of ZEP now ceased?
There is an urgent court case challenging it all.
The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) Holders Association and non-profit organisation African Amity have brought an urgent application before the High Court in Johannesburg to overturn the decision by the director-general of Home Affairs not to renew permits granted to more than 250 000 Zimbabweans in South Africa.
The ZEP Holders Association is asking the court to set aside the November 29 directive by Home Affairs and the cabinet.
The current batch of permits expire at the end of December 2021, after which the Department of Home Affairs has instructed all those who hold ZEP to apply for “mainstream visas” and to ensure that their applications comply with the provisions and requirements of the Immigration Act and its accompanying regulations.
The way things stand at the moment it is impossible for permit holders to comply with the government’s latest directive and remain legal in SA, as they would have to obtain police clearances from both SA and Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, this process typically takes six weeks.
The Zimbabwean police clearance can only be obtained in Zimbabwe, and requires fingerprints obtained there.
The 29 November 2021 decision for this reason alone cannot be complied with by many ZEP holders currently in the Republic.
Many ZEP holders are either in Zimbabwe or planning to go home for the festive season. The 10-day quarantine period in force in Zimbabwe prevents them from obtaining police clearance before the expiry of the ZEP at the end of December.
Home Affairs says it will only consider applications for permanent residence from January 2022.
A further problem for ZEP holders is that Home Affairs has not explained what it means by “mainstream visas” or whether permanent residence permits fall under this category.
The effect of the latest directive by Home Affairs is to prevent ZEP holders from making applications for permanent residence before December 31. “The intention by the respondents is to herd ZEP holders to apply for any visa or permit, beside permanent residence,” says the court application.
“According to the 29 November 2021 directive from [the director-general of Home Affairs], ZEP holders are expected to consider their legal options provided for by the Immigration Act and the Immigration Regulations, make a decision that impacts their future and that of their families, and then make an informed decision, all in a matter of weeks, at the risk of potential deportation if the direction they elect is wrong.