Hundreds of Zimbabwean nationals who queued near Cosatu House in downtown Johannesburg during the week to obtain valid Zimbabwean passports and South African documents appear to be the victims of a scam.
Patrick Craven, the trade union federation’s spokesperson, said on Thursday that the queue had nothing to do with Cosatu. “Just behind the building there is a bus terminus and the queue appears to be connected with that.”
Zimbabweans in South Africa without proper documentation have until the end of December to sort out their papers, the home affairs department announced last month. After that, those in the country without permits would be deported, it said.
Zimbabweans who had fraudulent South African documents would not be prosecuted if they immediately handed in all their illegal documents at a home affairs office anywhere in the country, the department added, although doing so would not guarantee them a permit to stay in SA.
This has not deterred illegal Zimbabweans from coming clean.
“We were told to come here by the [Zimbabwean] consulate to get our passports,” Ivy* said while she was queuing near Cosatu House on Thursday.
Standing at the end of the line, she said she was hoping to obtain documents that would make her “legal in South Africa”.
The Zimbabwean consulate said it had not referred people to Cosatu House, but others in the queue also said that the consulate had advised them to go there.
“We are here for our Zimbabwean passports,” another Zimbabwe national said on Thursday.
Gesturing towards a unnamed building between Cosatu House and the bus terminal, she said: “They give us a deposit slip with the account we have to deposit money into and then we have to deposit the money. Then we come back with the proof of payment and get passport forms and then we submit.”
The required payment was R750 each, those queuing said.
A security guard in the area, who did not want to be named, said he did not know who owned or worked in the building in question.
The Mail & Guardian found two burly, well-dressed, middle-aged men in building. They refused to give their names and said that only someone called “Mapanga” at the Zimbabwean consulate was authorised to speak to the press.
The pair could not supply a phone number or any other contact details for “Mapanga”.
Officials at the Zimbabwean consulate said that “C Mapanga” was the consulate general, but that he was unavailable to be interviewed or to provide comment until Friday morning.
The M&G could not establish whether the consulate was aware of what appeared to be a scam perpetrated by the two men in the building adjacent to Cosatu House.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria and its consulate in Johannesburg said they would provide Zimbabwean nationals resident in South Africa with travel documents so that the department of home affairs could issue qualifying nationals with valid permits.
But “supporting documents” would be necessary to confirm which documents should be issued, home affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa told the M&G.
A “special dispensation” implemented in April last year allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa to reside in the country for six months, seek employment, attend an educational facility and seek access to basic healthcare without documentation.
This concession was introduced during the turmoil in Zimbabwe, which saw hundreds of thousands flee to South Africa.
Several hundred Zimbabweans have been queuing and even sleeping outside the home affairs office in Harrison Street in Johannesburg.
Many Zimbabwean nationals said they had been waiting there for hours with no assistance. On Tuesday, Sam* said he had arrived the day before and had still not received any assistance. “We ask that the government feels for us and gets the police to patrol the area because there is no order in this queue,” he said.
Others in the queue said small groups of people were being attended to at a time. “For at least 40 minutes we don’t see any people. I guess we will be sleeping here today as well, because we are still waiting to get numbers,” said one.
The home affairs department said it could process up to 135 applications a day.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that there are between 1,5-million and two million Zimbabweans in South Africa.
* Not their real names