The departments of home affairs in South Africa and Zimbabwe have extended the deadline for the contentious issuing of passports to Zimbabweans in South Africa by an extra month.
The deadline was set for June 2011, however talks between ministers from both countries this week have seen the date moved to the end of July in order to process an outstanding 60 000 passports.
South African Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her Zimbabwean counterparts Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makoni discussed the matter at a briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday.
The process began in September last year and has been plagued by problems of long queues, confusion about requirements and necessary documents, backlogs and delays. The department of home affairs has seen several court applications being lodged against it in an attempt to force it to issue outstanding permits.
The initial deadline for the issuing of passports was set for end the of December 2010. However, it proved difficult for Zimbabweans to acquire passports from their country, leading to an extension of the deadline.
Mohadi said, “At the rate we are churning out passports in Zimbabwe, in about 20 weeks [end of July] we would have issued all the outstanding passports.”
Co-minister, Makoni said, “According to the registrar general, he will be able to meet the requirements without needing assistance — By using Saturdays and Sundays, he will be able to produce 3 000 passports a week.”
Dlamini-Zuma said this new extension will help those Zimbabweans who have not yet applied for passports. There were no intentions to have any more extensions.
“We shouldn’t have any problems left by the end of July,” said Makoni.
Legal Zimbabwean immigrants
However Mohadi said 20 weeks does not mark the end of the process. “There’ll always be new [Zimbabwean] people coming into South Africa.”
The only difference, Dlamini-Zuma pointed out, is that there will be no reason for them not to have a passport.
“We have registered close to 280 000 Zimbabweans, only about 60 000 of these still do not have passports,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
She indicated that the registered number was only reflective of a percentage of Zimbabweans living in South Africa who were not documented, emphasising that there were Zimbabweans living in South Africa who had proper documentation before the process begun.
Dlamini-Zuma said that of those who do not have passports, only half had applied for them at the close of the process.
Not just Zimbabweans
More than half of those who did not apply for passports couldn’t because they had no documentation to prove they were from Zimbabwe.
Their names will be handed over to Zimbabwean authorities for verification.
“Those who do not appear on the [Zimbabwean] database will undergo interviews,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
Makoni added: “It is not necessarily correct that all of them will be Zimbabweans,” explaining that other foreign nationals in South Africa may have used this opportunity, resulting in an inflation of the number.
The bilateral talks held between the ministers also tackled the issues around movement of people in the region.
The issue of refugees seemed to have been at the centre of these discussions with all the ministers emphasising that refugees should seek for asylum in a country closest to their own.
What is a refugee?
They said, because South Africa was seen as a developed economy compared to the rest to other African states, it is vulnerable to attracting people. The ministers called on the assistance of security and justice in other countries because it had become difficult to identify legitimate refugees.
They said it shouldn’t be easy for a refugee to pass through a number of countries and borders to come and seek refuge in South Africa.
“A refugee will seek refuge in the next country, not borders away,” said Mohadi.
Concerns around this issue were over individual motives, and “People who deliberately come into the country illegally”, said Dlamini-Zuma.
Zimbabwe’s concern also involved its close proximity to South Africa. “We are used as the passage to South Africa,” said Mohadi.
However, the ministers said talks around movement in the region needed to be discussed by the Southern Africa Development Community and possibly the African Union.