South Africa has announced that Zimbabweans who acquired permits under special dispensation will have to follow the normal channel of applying for work and study visas when their permits expire in December.
At least 200 000 Zimbabweans in South Africa face deportation when their special dispensation permits expire on December 31.
They will then have to return home to apply for new permits.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, in a statement on Tuesday, confirmed speculation in the mainstream and social media in recent weeks that Zimbabwe Special Permits holders (ZPS) wishing to extend their stay at the expiry of their permits will do so under the conventional immigration laws.
“Accordingly, we have advised Zimbabwean nationals whose special permits are expiring, to apply for visas we issue under the mainstream immigration legislation, in the event they aspire to stay for any other purpose or period.
On the basis of Cabinet’s decision on this matter, an announcement will be made on how we are going to proceed, but wild speculation, rumour-mongering, raising false alarm, fear and loathing are unwarranted,” Mr Gigaba said.
He said when the South African government introduced ZSP in August 2014, it had no intention to confer Zimbabweans with permanent residence status.
The special dispensation allowed Zimbabwean holders of the special permit to work, conduct business or study in South Africa for three years.
“We had started the special dispensation with Zimbabweans, with no intention, as clearly communicated, to confer or create expectations of permanent residence.
South Africa, like other countries in the Sadc region, is well aware of challenges of border control, and the concomitant influx of economic migrants into the country, many under the pretext of asylum-seeking, with others breaking SA’s immigration legislation,” he said.
Mr Gigaba said the special dispensation proved to be an effective way of regularising the stay of Zimbabweans among other migrants from the Sadc as well as managing the flow of migrant labour in the region.
ZPS is a programme that replaced Dispensation for Zimbabwe Project (DZP) which ran from May to December 31, 2010.
Only those who benefited under the DZP programme were eligible to apply for work and study permits under ZSP.
Zimbabwe’s top envoy to South Africa Ambassador Isaac Moyo said the embassy was still engaging the host government over the permits.
He also dismissed the often-quoted figure of three million Zimbabweans said to be resident in South Africa, saying only about 1,8 million at most are in that country.
Opposition parties and pseudo non-governmental organisations have often said three million Zimbabweans have been resident in the neighbouring country in the last decade.
“There are less than three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa,” he said.
“We have approximately 1,5 to 1,8 million resident here. The figures are being over-exaggerated. How do you add together the number of documented and undocumented people?”
“We are yet to discuss further what will happen at the end of the ZSP programme,” he said.
“I can only give more information after we are through with our engagements.”
Zimbabwe’s consul-general to South Africa Mr Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro said it was difficult to arrive at figures in the absence of a data base showing the demographics of the documented and undocumented Zimbabweans.
“Until and when we have a data base, can we be able to come up with a figure. Those who benefited from the ZSP are a fraction of Zimbabweans living in South Africa.
“You will also note that part of these people were students who have completed their education and went back home or migrated to other countries. The figures keep fluctuating as many people die or leave the country.”
Mr Gigaba expressed concern over a disturbing trend of anti-immigrant sentiments and misinformation.
The most recent has been the false messages which circulated on social media alleging the South African Home Affairs has called for immediate deportations of undocumented migrants from some African countries. Mr Gigaba refuted the claims.
“We will not incite citizens to take the law into their hands when we have the legal means ourselves lawfully to control illegal migration and effect deportations as necessary.
International migration is a global phenomenon, and is increasingly prominent in political and social discourse in many countries.
“South Africa, like many countries around the world, plays a careful balancing act in managing immigration.
“We value our connectedness with the rest of the world; our citizens visit and migrate to other countries, and so do we receive visitors and migrants from other countries,” said Mr Gigaba.