South Africa has extended the validity of Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) by a further six months, to allow the holders to apply for one or more other visas and waivers provided for in the Immigration Act.
The permits were due to expire on June 30 and a number of Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa had started expressing their desire to be assisted to come back home.
The Government had put in place measures to allow for their seamless return.
But in a statement seen by The Herald last night attributed to South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the exemption permits have been extended to December 31.
Dr Motsoaledi said during the next six months, no holder of the ZEP may be arrested, ordered to depart or be detained for purposes of deportation, or deported in terms of the Immigration Act for any reason related to him or her not having any valid exemption certificate.
A number of Zimbabweans had been arranging to come home ahead of the anticipated expiry of their special three-year permits.
Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa Mr David Hamadziripi yesterday said 10 000 people had registered with the embassy to facilitate their smooth return.
At the moment the Department of Immigration at Beitbridge Border Post is processing documents for an average of 200 returning residents a day who are holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP).
Over 170 000 Zimbabweans are based in South Africa under the special permit. In November 2021, the South African Cabinet indicated that they were not make further concessions for the ZEP holders, who were then given a grace period to migrate to other mainstream permits or return home.
As such, Zimbabwe has been putting measures in place to facilitate a smooth return of the affected Zimbabweans. Among other things, the returnees will enjoy a free import rebate including the shipping of one vehicle owned on the date of arrival in Zimbabwe.
“Individuals have registered through the online platform established by the embassy and the consulates,” said Mr Hamadziripi. “Some have done so directly to the embassy and the two consulates and others have contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade directly”.
The regional Immigration officer in charge of Beitbridge Mr Joshua Chibundu said they were ready to assist the fellow countrymen.
“We are ready to assist our fellow countrymen and we have been processing at least 200 entries for ZEP holders on a daily basis,” he said.
The district civil protection committee chairperson, Mrs Sikhangezile Mafu Moyo said recently that they had identified the Government run reception and support centre and the National Social Security Quarantine and Support centre to house those who would need accommodation upon getting to Beitbridge.
The two centres have a combined carrying capacity of 1 600 people including adults and children.
“We have identified two places to accommodate the returnees as the receiving town of Beitbridge and we are using the whole of government approach so that the whole process becomes seamless,” she said.
“All the sub committees have been activated to outline plans on health, transport, health, resource mobilisation and social protection.
“From what we are seeing on the ground, everyone is playing their role effectively. In fact, we have handled more human traffic before and we will continue using the same strategies”.
She said more resources were being mobilised through various Government and non-government agencies.
Mrs Mafu made the remarks during a stakeholders meeting held in the border town and was attended by stakeholders from the district up to the national level.
The local head of the social services department in charge of the reception and support centres, Miss Mellissa Zimuto, said already they had made requisitions for more manpower from their employer to handle the huge traffic volume.
“We have divided the period into three categories, that is pre-arrival, arrival and post arrival,” she said.
“What it means is that our fellow countrymen would need varied services in those three periods and we are making the necessary arrangements to ensure we take care of all social protection issues.
“At the moment, while we are attending to all logistical issues, we have teams on the ground raising awareness on integration issues in the known sending and receiving migrants’ areas”.
She said they were also training more people on case management issues, to handle cases relating to the arrival of unaccompanied minors or separated family members.
Miss Zimuto said they were also mobilising resources for transport and reunification of specified family members.
“We are also engaging community leaders to ensure that some of the children who are likely to return are catered for under the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM),” she added.
In 2009, the South African government launched the Dispensation of Zimbabwean Project with the main objective of providing amnesty to undocumented Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa to regularize their stay.
In 2018, the permit dispensation was extended and renamed to the ZEP, for four years which was due to expire at the end of last year. This was extended to the middle of this year.