THE future of nearly 40 000 Zimbabweans who missed the deadline for the application of new South African residence permit remains precarious as key officials from the Home Affairs Ministry are still away on festive holidays break. This greatly delays the possibility of urgent interaction between Zimbabwe and their home affairs counterparts in South Africa to avert an exodus of people across the Limpopo River.
Political observers have already warned that the high number of looming deportees alone would have grave repercussions for the cash-strapped ZANU-PF government, which is unable to deal with the high rate of unemployment which independent estimates place at over 90 percent of the population.
The majority of the estimated two million Zimbabwean nationals living in neighbouring South Africa left the country in search of greener pastures. They are convinced the economic hardships in Zimbabwe were orchestrated by ZANU-PF’s unfortunate economic policies at the turn of the new millennium.
Kembo Mohadi, the Home Affairs Minister, said that he was away on holiday and was not privy to thedetails of the looming deportations. “I am only returning back to work in February and I am on holiday. There should perhaps be an acting minister until my return,” said Mohadi.
The South African home affairs department announced in August last year that the previous type of permit, which made special dispensation for Zimbabweans to stay in that country, would no longer be valid after December 31, no matter what their original expiration date.
According to the department, there are around 245 000 holders of the Dispensation for Zimbabwean Project permit, first issued in 2010 and valid for four years. Every foreigner was eligible to apply for the new Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit, but only 207 802 applications had been received by December 30, leaving a shortfall of 37 198 who potentially face deportation.
Rights groups are preparing to challenge the constitutionality of the looming deportations and argue that applicants faced a difficult time in the process of making the online applications and the high fees for making calls to the call centre to book for an appointment. South Africa’s Home Affairs department had hired the services of Visa Facilitation Services to handle the permit applications.
Zimbabwe Diaspora Forum spokesperson, Trust Ndlovu, said an extension of the deadline was the only feasible way to avert a potentially volatile situation from unfolding. “…Six months would be adequate to accommodate all due applicants. We feel the three months between October and December last year was not enough. We are appealing to South Africa’s Home Affairs Department to extend the process by another three months,” said Ndlovu.
Indications from Zimbabwe’s embassy in South Africa are that its southern neighbour was unlikely to reconsider its decision and extend the permit application process any further. The deportations, in addition to the economic pressure it could bring to bear on the State, human rights groups fear could spark similar measures being meted out by other neighbouring countries against Zimbabwe as they take a cue from South African on how to deal with illegal migrants.
Zimbabwe’s western neighbour, Botswana has been notorious over the years for dealing harshly with illegal immigrants and deporting scores from its borders. While the actual deportation process is yet to kick off, those who are standing on the wrong side of the law are already feeling the pinch of living with undocumented papers as it has been reported in South African media that they can no longer access bank accounts to transact.
Pretoria insists on valid identity documents before processing transactions in banks. Because the bulk of Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa are there to earn a living and support their dependents back home, their (dependents) are also likely to feel the pinch once they can no longer receive financial support from them when the deportations roll out in earnest.
The deportations may also eat into the Diaspora remittances which are largely seen to be a vital cog in the country’s economy. Diaspora remittances in 2012 were at US$1,2 billion, US$1,8 billion in 2013 and were estimated to reach US$9 million at the end of last year.