While hundreds of Zimbabwean nationals have heeded the call by the Department of Home Affairs to get themselves documented in South Africa, many have complained of confusion, delays and long queues.
“I think there are about 600 and something people who are here. My number is number 250 and I came at 4am. So I don’t know. Please, please can they help us,” said a woman waiting in the queue outside the home affairs office in Harrison street on Tuesday.
The woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, was attempting to obtain a work permit.
Foreigners are not issued work permits if they are employed as domestic workers in South Africa, forcing them to reapply every three months.
“We don’t have money, so I think if they can give us the work permit; it’s a good idea and its better for us,” she said.
The documentation process, which started on September 20, stems from the withdrawal of the special dispensation for Zimbabweans announced by Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The dispensation, implemented in April last year, allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa the right to live, work, attend education facilities and access basic healthcare services for six months without documentation.
It was introduced during the height of political turmoil in Zimbabwe, where political and economic instability blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s policies saw hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans flee to South Africa.
Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa without correct documentation have been given until December 31 to get their papers in order after which they will be deported.
While the number of Zimbabweans living in South Africa is estimated to be between one and two million, only about 350 000 have been documented through land, sea and at airports.
This week men, women and children stood outside the home affairs office on Harrison Street from as early as 2am with blankets and folders full of documents.
“Now we are losing hope. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow because they said the deadline is December 31 and some of us who have been here for days have still not been helped,” another woman in the queue told the M&G.
Another woman, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said she had been waiting since last Friday to be seen by a department official.
“The problem is that there is no one attending to us. No one is talking to us. We are just given an exercise book, so that we can write down our names and from there we are just standing here. At least if there was someone attending to us … they address us, they tell us what they want then we go back home and fetch the documents,” she told the M&G.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, Zimbabwean nationals need to bring their passport and confirmation of employment.
A Zimbabwean national who supplied his name as Simpson, said he runs a recruitment agency in Johannesburg.
He told the M&G that he had been forced in 2009 to register his business under another person’s name because he did not have the papers to legally live and work in South Africa.
He said he had visited the Home Affairs office in Randfontein and was told the documentation process was not for professionals, but for “general labourers”.
However when Simpson telephoned the Department of Home Affair’s call centre he was told that the documentation process was open to everyone.
“We want to be documented and to get legal status but if we are going to be frustrated in this way, people will opt to get fraudulent papers. We are professional people and we contribute to the economy,” Samuel told the M&G.
“We were told that as normal professional people we should apply through the normal permit process.”
While the Department of Home Affairs has extended an amnesty period, there is no guarantee that Zimbabwean nationals will qualify for legal documents.
Deputy Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba visited the home affairs office in Johannesburg on Wednesday after police intervened in scuffles between Zimbabwean nationals earlier this week.
He also visited the Bloemfontein office on Wednesday morning.
“The deputy minister has observed that the Bloemfontein office receives fewer numbers … so perhaps the deployment of officials should match the demand of the office,” said spokesperson Bayanda Mzoneli.
“So we might move officials from one office to the next.”