The Mail & Guardian‘s Tanya Pampalone spoke to Jacob Mamabolo, the department of home affairs project manager of the Zimbabwean Documentation Process (ZDP), to get clarity on recent issues facing Zimbabwean nationals. Here’s what we extracted from the conversation:
How many applications has the department processed?
Number of applications received: 275 762
Number of applications finalised: 67 897
Number of pending applications: 207 865
Mail & Guardian: “How many applications have been rejected?”
Jacob Mamabolo: “We have not issued final rejections yet. We said of all those applications received, we are going to do a review of all of those, and only at the end we will give a tally of rejections. At this time, we are doing a review of rejected applications [of those who were given rejection letters before January 3]. We took a decision to automatically review all rejected applications [which were issued before January 3] because we needed to make sure that all those were said to be rejected were not a result of variation of policy. The intention of this project is to register applications. That’s the primary objective. We need to make sure we have thoroughly looked at these.”
M&G: “So has this the appeal/review process begun? How will it work?”
JM: “Those applicants who were given rejection letters [before January 3] will automatically be reviewed. Now we are taking all of the files, going through all of them, all of the documents and checking the reasons for rejection. When the process started, this was completely new process for us; we noted rejections and the concerns raised and we said let’s review all of the applications. Currently process is very stable.”
M&G: “During the documentation process last year, how did you communicate with the Zimbabwean community on what was required for the ZDP? How do you communicate now?”
JM: “We hold regular stakeholder meetings, and all the stakeholders that are in the country have come forward to engage. There are around 20 to 25 stakeholder organisations from Zimbabwe. The last meeting was [Tuesday, February 22].
“These are stakeholders that interact with Zimbabwean foreign nationals, and they have played a positive role. That’s the most important platform. Every month we met with them and next meeting is at the end of March.
“The Zimbabwean foreign nationals are the customers or clients of this project, so interfacing with the client is critical. This is over and above press statements and briefings.
M&G: “Many people have found this process confusing — including this reporter — with the constantly changing requirements and messages from the department. Do you think that’s accurate?”
JM: “There have been consistent improvements to this process. New lessons have been learned every day to make it more efficient and effective. When you start an initiative you make certain adjustments to move forward. Since we started we did make adjustments based on practical and scientific observations and we have been communicating a specific message.
“This is a phenomenal success. We’ve got people acknowledging that the way the project was managed was exceptionally good. There will always be some challenges here and there; it’s the nature of a project of this scale.
“The president, in his New Year message, acknowledged the work that we have done under difficult conditions. It is in the best interests of Zimbabweans that every person who enters this country be registered and have documents.”
M&G: “Will those who applied who were asylum seekers — and had to give up their asylum permits in order to apply — be able to reapply for asylum if they are rejected?”
JM: “Any person who applied through this project at any given point and is rejected, still has the normal asylum seeker process still there. The normal permit process will still be there. But the person must meet the criteria. So any person who is rejected can try another way. The principle is that all processes are still open to any Zimbabwean through the normal permit and normal asylum permits, as long as they meet requirements.”
M&G: “What were the specific criteria around a successful application?”
JM: “The ZDP worked on a set of relaxed requirements for a work, study and business permit, applicable only to the people that qualified to apply. These requirements were only for this project, not to general or mainstream permits; for example, [they will not apply] post the 31 December deadline or for a national of any other country.”
M&G: “Which policies, if any, have changed around immigration of Zimbabweans? For example, we have heard from many working with the community that the Section 23 permits — which gives a 14 day transit visa to allow those seeking asylum to report to a refugee centre — can now only be obtained at the border, where they previously were being given at, for example, the department of home affairs in Musina. We have also heard that DHA officials are pre-screening individuals for these permits. Also, have the laws changed around emergency transit documents? We understand that farmers were using these for their workers, in conjunction with corporate permits, which had previously allowed them to cross without passports but that has changed. Could you please give clarity on these issues?”
JM: “Yes, they do conduct pre-screening at Beit Bridge. That is very important. Someone says ‘I’m an asylum seeker’ and we have to do preliminary tests [to see if they comply with the] immigration Act. The Section 23 is issued at port of entry and you can’t issue without the preliminary screening. It’s not a change of policy. Musina is not a port of entry. The official policy is that the Section 23 is issued at ports of entry. We have reaffirmed the correct procedure. Now we are maintaining policy but nothing has changed.
“The official policy with regards to the emergency transit documents is that you must have a passport. We don’t accept the emergency transit document on its own. This is in effect from June 2010. We issued a directive.”
M&G: “Will the Department consider extending the deadline for adjudications if Zimbabwe is unable to process all the passport requests in time?”
JM: “What’s happening is that if an applicant has all the supporting documents, such as confirmation from their school or employment, and we have verified no criminal record or any violations of the immigration act, and they don’t have a passport [by the July deadline] they will not be able to collect their permit as they will have to produce a passport. But the fact that they don’t have a passport does not stop adjudication, but it will affect collection. So from where we stand, the issues will impact on collection.”
M&G: “Is the moratorium on deportation in effect until August?”
JM: “Yes. Here are some other key dates. At the end of June, we will finalise adjudication and dispatch permits to regional offices and office of application and allow applications to be collected. There will then be a 10-day period to lodge appeals, in the case of rejections. At the end of July, all will have received response to any appeal. On 1 August, the department will now be ready to commence with deportations. But normally people get confused about this. Does it mean 1 August, we are going to see arrests? No, 1 August is not deportation day. But starting on that day, the normal deportation process will go on.”