MORE than 200 000 Zimbabwean migrants holding South African special permits called Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) yesterday received a major boost when the Helen Suzman Foundation moved in to assist them fight for the right to continue living and working in that country.
The Zimbabweans this week escalated their push to force Pretoria to stop deportations.
Under pressure from South Africans, who have been calling for the deportation of millions of migrants, Pretoria announced last week that it would not renew the special permits when they expire at the end of this month.
However, South African authorities gave Zimbabwean migrants a one-year grace period during which they can apply for new permits.
Those who fail to secure the documents in that period face deportation from the region’s most industrialised economy.
Yesterday, the Helen Suzman Foundation moved in to assist them fight for the right to continue living and working in South Africa.
The Helen Suzman Foundation promotes liberal constitutional democracy and the rule of law.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday, the lawyer representing the permit holders, Simba Chitando, confirmed the foundation would be working with Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Holders Association (ZEPHA) in challenging Pretoria’s decision.
“After Nicole Fritz, the head of Helen Suzman Foundation, got hold of us, we have agreed to work together in whatever way we can to challenge the decision by cabinet not to renew ZEP,” Chitando told the Independent. “The lawyers working on the matter, and the ZEPHA, are humbled by the support of the Helen Suzman Foundation.”
Chitando said the foundation was one of the most important non-governmental institutions safeguarding human rights and the rule of law in South Africa.
“Their track record in court is sterling. ZEP holders will benefit incredibly from their expertise and my team is thrilled to be working with the Helen Suzman Foundation and any other like-minded institutions prepared to protect the rights of ZEP holders,” he said.
Chitando has also defended the fight against the South African cabinet decision saying South Africa was exposing Zimbabwean immigrants to exploitation as long as their stay was not guaranteed.
He said Zimbabweans in the United States and Canada, for instance, had received the full benefit of migration laws in those jurisdictions, and had thrived.
“Unfortunately, our most immediate neighbour has been less kind,” Chitando said.
He accused South Africa of exploiting Zimbabweans through the special permits, which, he argued, were designed to “extract labour without rights”.
Chitando has also described the ZEPs as a “slave permit” which gave permanent residency to some nationals, while it denied it to others.
“This is in contradiction to the spirit of Pan-Africanism, and an unfriendly way to deal with a neighbour and major trading partner,” Chitando said.
He said the ZEP had left Zimbabweans exploited for a decade by a permit which uses their labour, but denies them the rights of permanent residency, even though they are permanently resident in the country.
Chitando also said many South Africans supported the provisions of permanent residency to Zimbabweans, who permanently reside in South Africa.
In an article in BusinessDay newspaper yesterday, Fritz said Zimbabweans who had built lives and livelihoods for more than a decade would risk living in South Africa as undocumented people than come back to Zimbabwe.
“That special permit system has now endured for more than a decade. It has allowed those who qualify to build lives and livelihoods here in SA and, as importantly, has meant we have benefited from their contributions to this country,” she said.
Fritz said the South African cabinet decision was made during a Covid-19 lockdown while the Department of Home Affairs was dysfunctional.
“Even for those who stand the best chance of acquiring another permit status, the odds of successful and seamless migration within the next 12 months are pretty much insurmountable.
“But there are thousands who face absolutely no prospect of successful migration. So people who enjoyed some sense of security will be thrown into jeopardy.
“They will face the predicament: life in SA as an undocumented person, always at risk, or return to a country where they have built no lives.”
She added: “Of course, our leaders, like those of our Western allies, will insist that this decision is not intended to inflict hardship but simply to protect their own. But it is when your hardship and misery, entirely predictable and foreseen, is dismissed as unintended and irrelevant, that you are most completely immaterial and surplus.”
She argued that while the South African authorities have a right to protest against the Covid-19 travel ban by Western countries and its consequences, it also needed to demonstrate moral authority that it would act differently in similar circumstances.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria said it was engaging the host government over its decision not to renew the special exemption permits.
Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa David Hamadziripi earlier this week called on Zimbabweans based in the neighbouring country to comply with the cabinet decision.
He said Zimbabwe would want their South African counterparts to ensure the timely dissemination of information and the smooth implementation of the decision.
“It is the embassy’s expectation that this decision will be implemented with the minimum of disruption to the lives and livelihoods of the affected individuals and their families.
“The government of the Republic of Zimbabwe takes note of this decision by the government of the Republic of South Africa, a close neighbour with which Zimbabwe enjoys excellent relations.
“The Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe urges and encourages all its nationals, beneficiaries of the special dispensation, to comply with this decision and to cooperate in its implementation.”
The first Zimbabwean special dispensation started in 2009 and was called the Dispensation for Zimbabwe Permit and it provided for the documentation of qualifying Zimbabweans for a five-year period.
In 2014, the dispensation was extended by three years and called the Zimbabwean Special Permit and the current ZEP was initiated in 2017 and comes to an end on December 31, 2021.
– Zim Independent