Zim­bab­weans un­cer­tain de­spite good news

ZSP re-ap­pli­ca­tions for SA open,but time not on on their side over long process

The Sunday Independent - - AFRICA -

MANY of the al­most 200 000 Zim­bab­wean cit­i­zens in South Africa who hold a Zim­bab­wean Spe­cial Per­mit (ZSP) felt an enor­mous sense of re­lief on Septem­ber 8 when Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Hlengiwe Mkhize an­nounced the con­di­tions un­der which this spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion per­mit can be re­newed.

ZSP reap­pli­ca­tions were not part of the de­part­ment’s orig­i­nal plan, nor were re­newals of its pre­de­ces­sor, the Dis­pen­sa­tion of Zim­bab­weans Project (DZP) per­mit. In­stead, ZSP hold­ers were ad­vised that fol­low­ing the per­mit’s ex­pi­ra­tion on De­cem­ber 31 this year, those who qual­i­fied for a stan­dard visa in South Africa would be re­quired to ap­ply in Zim­babwe. But the pro­cess­ing time re­quired across the bor­der is ap­prox­i­mately two months or more, when ev­ery­thing goes smoothly.

Mkhu­l­uli Sibanda, a 35-year-old Zim­bab­wean who has been work­ing in South Africa as a foundry fore­man for 10 years, has been un­cer­tain since his ZSP was is­sued in De­cem­ber 2014. “As a ZSP holder, they say my per­mit is not re­new­able,” he told me last month, when he and fel­low ZSP hold­ers were still in limbo. “I’m mar­ried with kids to a South African lady, and the thought of go­ing back there (to Zim­babwe) and not know­ing what will hap­pen to me… It’s a nightmare.”

Sibanda’s em­ployer, no doubt ner­vous about los­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of its staff, had be­gun reg­u­larly de­mand­ing to know what he planned to do when his per­mit ex­pired at the end of this year.

“One im­mi­gra­tion lawyer said there is a pos­si­bil­ity of my get­ting a spousal per­mit in my coun­try, but when I go there they will hold my pass­port for two months. I don’t want to be away from my fam­ily. And, as a per­ma­nent em­ployee in South Africa, I can hardly get a sin­gle day off work. So leav­ing my job for two months, that will be the end of me and the end of my fam­ily.”

The per­mits were in­tro­duced in April 2009 to of­fer amnesty to Zim­bab­wean na­tion­als who had been liv­ing in the coun­try with fraud­u­lent South African iden­tity doc­u­ments. The pro­gramme also aimed to es­tab­lish a more ac­cu­rate record of the Zim­bab­wean pop­u­la­tion, thou­sands of whom had al­ready made lives for them­selves in South Africa, and were part of South Africa’s eco­nomic and so­cial fab­ric.

From Septem­ber 15 to Novem­ber 30 this year, ZSP hold­ers are given the op­por­tu­nity to re-ap­ply for the right to live and work in South Africa un­der a newly in­tro­duced Zim­bab­wean Ex­emp­tion Per­mit (ZEP), said Mkhize last week.

The ZEP ex­emp­tion is only avail­able to hold­ers of valid ZSP per­mits, and an ad­min­is­tra­tion fee of R1 090 will be charged.

But the real news is that the ZEP ex­emp­tion en­ables el­i­gi­ble Zim­bab­weans to ap­ply for other main­stream visas from within South Africa with­out the need to put their lives on hold. For Sibanda, this means that a spousal visa may be­come a re­al­ity. Busi­ness­peo­ple, stu­dents and crit­i­cally skilled in­di­vid­u­als will also be able to es­cape the con­fines of a rigid and un­pre­dictable dis­pen­sa­tion pro­gramme.

Lead­ing South African im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­ney Gary Eisen­berg says that the min­ster’s de­ci­sion re­flects a new wis­dom. “To date, the ZSP pro­gramme was purely a po­lit­i­cal pro­gramme that straight­jack­eted per­mit hold­ers from chang­ing their sta­tus to visas which could pos­si­bly lead to per­ma­nent res­i­dence.

“Zim­bab­wean cit­i­zens have at­tri­bu­tions of ed­u­ca­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence that would ben­e­fit South Africa in ways that were never pre­vi­ously recog­nised. South Africa will de­rive sub­stan­tial in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal from the pool of al­most 200 000 ZSP hold­ers liv­ing, work­ing and op­er­at­ing their own busi­nesses in this coun­try.”

For­mer di­rec­tor-gen­eral at Home Af­fairs, now chair­per­son of Cor­rup­tion Watch, Mavuso Msi­mang, agrees that South Africa needs new and more pro­gres­sive ap­proaches to im­mi­gra­tion. “We should deal with the re­al­ity that South Africa, with the big­gest econ­omy in Africa, is per­ceived to of­fer the best busi­ness and job op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

But the ques­tion of “why now?” hangs in the air. Cur­rent ZSP hold­ers who are el­i­gi­ble for stan­dard visas are en­ti­tled to change sta­tus in South Africa, while past ZSP and ZDP hold­ers are not. Nor will fu­ture ZEP hold­ers be af­forded this right, ac­cord­ing to con­di­tions out­lined by the min­is­ter. And Zim­bab­weans who do qual­ify for work or res­i­dence per­mits have to ef­fec­tively start from square one in terms of ap­ply­ing for per­ma­nent res­i­dence, re­gard­less of how long they have resided in the coun­try or been part of the dis­pen­sa­tion pro­gramme.

But for ZSP hold­ers who – un­til the min­is­ter’s ap­par­ent change of heart last month – had been told that re­newal of their per­mits was not pos­si­ble, and that visa ap­pli­ca­tions ne­ces­si­tated a two-month wait in Zim­babwe, this is still good news.

“Should the min­ster have re­fused to ex­tend the ZSP pro­gramme, the South African fis­cus would have had to sup­port an un­re­al­is­tic vol­ume of de­por­ta­tions,” says Eisen­berg.

“The min­is­ter had no op­tion but to ex­tend the pro­gramme, re­liev­ing the po­lit­i­cal and so­cio-eco­nomic bur­den that South Africa would have had to bear in a sit­u­a­tion where 200 000 for­eign­ers had no im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus come Jan­uary 1, 2018.”

Sadly, time is not on these Zim­bab­weans’ side. VFS – the com­pany at which visa ap­pli­ca­tions are sub­mit­ted be­fore be­ing pro­cessed by Home Af­fairs – is ex­pected to re­ceive thou­sands of ZEP ap­pli­ca­tions. Al­ter­na­tive visa ap­pli­ca­tions must pre­sum­ably be made be­fore the ZSP ex­pires on De­cem­ber 31, although de­tails of this have not been re­leased.

“The min­is­ter has un­for­tu­nately not given ZSP hold­ers suf­fi­cient time. It may take two or three months to pre­pare a crit­i­cal skills work visa ap­pli­ca­tion, which in­cludes the eval­u­a­tion by SAQA (the South African Qual­i­fi­ca­tions Au­thor­ity) of for­eign qual­i­fi­ca­tions, the reg­is­tra­tion with pro­fes­sional bod­ies, and so forth,” Eisen­berg cau­tions.

Mkhize as­sumed her cur­rent po­si­tion on March 31 this year, but her fail­ure to make a de­ci­sion and to en­sure clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the public in the last five months will no doubt have a neg­a­tive im­pact on cer­tain Zim­bab­wean cit­i­zens’ fu­ture in South Africa.

“Sadly, there is still a cloud over my head due to a lack of in­for­ma­tion that one gets at these VFS of­fices,” Sibanda said af­ter the min­ster’s an­nounce­ment. “Un­for­tu­nately, we for­eign­ers are never treated like hu­man be­ings at these of­fices”

Eisen­berg said: “Po­lit­i­cal mood and the la­tent xeno­pho­bia man­i­fest in South African so­ci­ety can­not con­tinue to sway po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions. South Africa has an un­de­ter­mined num­ber of un­doc­u­mented for­eign­ers so­journ­ing in this coun­try. The in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal that they con­sti­tute is enor­mous and must be har­vested in South Africa’s na­tional in­ter­est.”

Msi­mang es­ti­mates that no fewer than 75% of South Africans hire Zim­bab­weans. “They are con­sid­ered to work hard and, no doubt, to ac­cept less pay. But this is not about cheap labour. We get more for our money by hir­ing for­eign­ers.”

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