Zimbabweans living in South Africa are rushing to renew their permits to stay in the count r y l e g a l l y a mi d mounting concerns that the process may not be able to accommodate all of the 275 000 people needing new papers by the 31 December deadline.
SA i s a major dest i nation f or Zimbabweans looking for greener pastures. The Zimbabwean economy is facing liquidity constraints, while companies are increasingly retrenching to cut costs.
Fights within the ruling Zanu PF party about a successor for President Robert Mugabe have added to investor uncertainty.
“I had come back hoping that things were improving, but it’s just useless. Worse is that I now have to go back [to SA] and f ight for the new permits. I am desperate and I will use any means necessary, even if I have to bribe my way, I just have to get the permit,” said one Zimbabwean man as he queued to have his passport renewed in Harare.
The SA home affairs department said earlier t his month t hat more t han 195 0 0 0 Zimbabweans had applied to remain in SA under a new arrangement, the Zimbabwe Special Permits dispensation.
By month-end, a f urther 50 000 are expected to apply. The online application process is expected to close by 31 December, and there are fears that not all the applications will be processed by then.
Zimbabwe home affairs minister, Kembo Mohadi, told Finweek that t he SA a nd Zi mbabwean g o v e r n ment s h a d a g r e e d that “expiring permits will be renewed”. He said he expected the permits of all Zimbabweans staying in SA to be renewed.
“I haven’t seen any representation from our people that the programme has been reneged on. We agreed that the 250 000 to 275 000 people who are currently holders of those will be renewed in SA, as opposed to what they had said earlier that they were supposed to come back home and get that done,” Mohadi said.
The permits are expected to be valid for three years, which indicates that SA may be intending to send more Zimbabweans back home in the next few years, development experts say.
Economist John Roberts said that while there is no agreement on the number of Zimbabwean expats in the region, the diaspora in SA, Botswana and Namibia plays an active role in propping up the Zimbabwean economy through remittances.
“Most of the Zimbabweans working in SA will try very hard to re-register to get proper permits and I am sure SA will try to assist. The SA government is not keen to see the departure of those Zimbabweans settled there because they have been contributing a great deal to the SA economy for a long time,” said Robertson.