Home affairs processing 1 800 Zim applications a day

While hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have applied for business, study and work permits in South Africa, the fate of thousands of others is now unclear.

Over 44 000 Zimbabweans permit applications have now been approved by the South African Department of Home Affairs and more than 10 166 are subject to further review. On Wednesday, the department told the M&G there were still 222 554 applications pending adjudication, with 1 800 applications being processed daily.

The process started last year when home affairs declared that Zimbabweans in the country would need to apply by December 31. By the deadline, 275 762 had applied while an estimated 1,5-million Zimbabweans reside in the country.

Jacob Mamabolo, Head of Port Control at the Department of Home Affairs, told the M&G that no applicants had been rejected, but were subject to further review.

Review of applications
He said when the process started it was found that home affairs officials were rejecting numerous applications. It was decided to review these applications, with a view to uncover the reasons for rejection: “When we started the process we realised the rejection numbers were picking up.” It was then that a decision was made to have these applications reviewed.

Zimbabweans were given until the December 31 last year to apply for permits to live in the country or risk being deported after the moratorium on arrests ends.

Professor Loren Landau, director of the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Wits University in Johannesburg, said the processing of applications seemed to have been carried out in an ad hoc manner: “As far as I know there was never a single document which outlined who should be able to qualify and who shouldn’t.”

Mamabolo said that the requirements for application had then been “relaxed” and that perhaps the reason for so many rejections had been “inconsistent applications and interpretations of requirements”.

Initial requirements for application were to provide a valid Zimbabwean passport and proof of study, work, self employment or business.

Two weeks before the December application deadline the Minister of Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, announced that the deadline would not be extended but that applicants would not need to present a passport—provided they had proof of applying for one—nor would they need to provide fingerprints on forms.

Applicants who did not qualify would receive rejection notices, and they would have 10 days to lodge an appeal.

Those who missed the deadline would be deported, according to Mkuseli Apleni, the director-general of the Department of Home Affairs.

“If there are people who have willingly not taken this opportunity they will be deported,” he said at a media briefing last Thursday.

Mamabolo said once the project was complete, the Immigration Act would again apply to all foreigners coming into South Africa.

The ACMS’s Landau said this would be an effective return to the status quo of widespread arrest, detention and deportation.

“In the year before the initial moratorium started in mid-2008, South Africa had deported close to 300 000 people. About two-thirds of those were Zimbabweans.” Landau said he believed if the Act was enforced as it had been in the past, “we will see a return to those numbers”.

“This has immense consequences, not only for the migrants but also for the families that depend on them, employers who hire them, the employees that they hire, and the SA taxpayer.”

Landau said he had hoped for long-term plan, noting there was a need for a regional approach to migration in Southern Africa. This, he suggested, could be established through a range of bilateral agreements or through a South African Development Community initiative. Such an effort, he said, should be aimed at creating regional labour markets, promoting the movement of skills, and facilitating trade.

“Without some sort of pragmatic policy, we will be left spending millions and violating rights to enforce a law that no longer fits the context in which we live.”

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen. Read more from Lisa Steyn

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