Plans to have Zimbabweans in South Africa apply for new permits following the end of a special dispensation by home affairs are impractical, the country’s MDC party said in Johannesburg on Monday.
“It is highly fortuitous for anyone to expect home affairs to process Zimbabweans’ applications in four months, when there is already a backlog of 200 000 asylum-seekers who have not been processed,” Movement for Democratic Change South Africa (MDC SA) chairperson Austin Moyo told reporters in Johannesburg.
“We urge the ANC-led government to be compassionate and considerate.”
Last week, the Home Affairs Department announced it was ending a special dispensation for Zimbabweans on December 31 this year. The dispensation, implemented in April last year, allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa the right to live, work, study and access basic healthcare for six months.
Moyo said it was too early for Zimbabweans to return to their country as the situation there had not yet normalised.
“We are appealing for patience from the South African government until at least the elections are held in Zimbabwe. Then we can start to have the negotiations over a managed repatriation process [instead of a situation] where people are just dumped in the country.”
Moyo was accompanied by representatives from the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, and Central Methodist Church Bishop Paul Verryn. Verryn was representing the organisation Peace Action, but is best known for providing shelter to thousands of Zimbabwean migrants at the church in the Johannesburg CBD.
‘Situation is still desperate’
Verryn backed Moyo’s claim that Zimbabwe was not yet ready for the return of its migrants.
“The allegations that things have improved in Zimbabwe to the point where people can return, we can only interpret as a statement which relates to the middle and upper classes of Zimbabwe.
“But for the vulnerable in the country the situation is still desperate.”
Verryn accused the South African government of mismanaging its policy towards Zimbabwean migrants, because of its own position as a mediator between that country’s political factions.
“At no point in South Africa has there been a concession that conditions in Zimbabwe are refugee-producing conditions. The reason for that, I think, is that South Africa is directly involved in the negotiations.
“To concede that Zimbabwe is a refugee-producing country is to concede failure [in negotiations].”
Verryn said that Peace Action’s worry was that the special dispensation’s cancellation would lead to an increase in xenophobic attitudes.
“It will send a message that these people are not bona fides, that they are criminals. So our anxiety about xenophobia is raised to another level.
“The anxieties are that xenophobia is going to be fuelled out of recognition. The reason being that home affairs has found it very difficult to cope with legitimising Zimbabweans in this county. With new legislation, we doubt they will be able to address this new spate of applications.”
With the end of the special dispensation in December, Zimbabweans would have to apply for new permits if they wished to stay in South Africa. Many would also have to have accompanying documentation issued by Zimbabwean consulates and embassies in South Africa.
“Zimbabweans are comfortable being documented,” MDC SA spokesperson Sibanengi Dube said. “But what we are saying is that South African home affairs will not produce the documents.
“It would be a mission for them to process all the applications for Zimbabweans when they are having trouble themselves producing documents for South Africans,” said Dube.
Dube said the issue was “not incompetence but inefficiency”.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional coordinator Dewa Mavhinga said the Zimbabwean government was also not prepared for the potential flood of applications.
“The government of Zimbabwe does not have the resources to issue the millions of permits and passports,” he said.
Dube also expressed fears that the end of the dispensation would make life more difficult for Zimbabweans in South Africa, empower human traffickers and encourage police harassment and bribery.
“You will see police raiding buildings either to evict Zimbabweans or to ask for “cooldrinks money”,” said Dube.
Verryn said new legislation that encouraged foreigners to prove their legitimacy was reminiscent of pass laws.
“We are being bedevilled with this legislation, which is so reminiscent of the apartheid era.
“My anxiety is that we will see an increase of police needing to check the validity of people living in this country, and that in itself creates the old problem that we were suffering the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s of people being pursued under pass-law legislation.” — Sapa