Home affairs delays leave Zim nationals in limbo

Tarisai Moyo is one of the 250 000 Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa under special dispensation permits.

The permits, issued in 2010 by the department of home affairs, are valid for four years. They are due to expire in December.

Moyo, a softly spoken history teacher, works at the Albert Street School, which was founded by the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church in the inner city.

She was a teacher for 10 years in her home country before coming to South Africa in 2005. She came to Johannesburg because of the poor economic outlook in Zimbabwe.

She is “insecure” about her residency status in Johannesburg because neither home affairs officials nor officials from the Zimbabwe embassy are able to say whether her permit will be renewed.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, during his budget vote speech last month, said: “I am mindful of the anxiety among the Zimbabwean nationals in possession of this special permit issued in 2010, but I shall announce my decision in August.”

Another teacher, who did not want to be named, said the school could not afford to pay its electricity bill and the power had been cut off. The teacher said most parents cannot afford to pay school fees.

Moyo says being without legal papers scares her. “I have seen how the police in the inner city handle Zimbabweans without proper papers,” she says.

Feeling targeted
“Why is it the permits are issued specifically to Zimbabweans? I feel like we are being targeted. Why not to Somalis? I feel like the situation would be better if [Nelson] Mandela was still alive.”

Moyo has heard rumours that “we are going to be taken to our own country to make visas from there”.

School principal William Kandowe, also from Zimbabwe, is seated in his gloomy office behind a desk cluttered with papers. He is marking science exams. “I have asylum papers. I didn’t go to obtain the permit in 2010,” he says.

“Why were the permits issued only to Zimbabweans in the first place? The South African government is worried that, should it extend Zimbabweans’ stay for an extra year, some might want to apply for permanent residence.”

Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church says 1 300 Zimbabweans are staying at his church. “Most of these people are vulnerable and quite traumatised,” he says.

Some people do piece work during the day; others are teachers at the school. Every Wednesday evening they congregate at the church and pray and jubilantly sing Shona hymns before filing up to receive holy communion.

Verryn appealed to South Africans “to have a progressive mind-set towards foreign nationals”. “We need to recognise that openness to diversity is most important to our lives; that it brings us closer to humanity,” he said.

Dosso Ndessomin of the Co-ordinating Body of Migrant and Refugee Communities said this week he was positive that South Africa’s government would renew the permits.

The four-year permit “is not like the normal permits that would automatically give one the right to have permanent residence after a five-year stay in the country”, he said, and advised those whose permits had expired to report to their local home affairs office.

Moyo said she did not hold out much hope: “I am expecting the worst. But if the worst comes to the worst I will go home because it is difficult for a learned person like myself to become destitute.”

Home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete told the Mail & Guardian this week that he did not want to pre-empt Gigaba’s announcement.

“The announcement will be made soon enough, in a couple of weeks. The minister is still consulting with his Zimbabwean counterpart on the issue.”

Rapula Moatshe is the Eugene Saldanha fellow for social justice reporting, sponsored by CAF Southern Africa

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Anarchy rules at home affairs

It is unwise to entrust our fingerprints, biographical details and legislative authority to a syndicate of delinquent government officials

Mother challenges home affairs

A stateless woman in Durban is waging a court battle to receive identification documents so she can apply for birth certificates for her children

Immigration Act upended by legal chaos

Every foreigner, including investors, has to hurdle ignorant officials and a multiplicity of ‘laws’

SA’s contradictory laws discriminate against children of migrants

Proposed regulations for birth certificates will deny children of migrants the right to education

Chawla demanded a luxury flight to Gupta naturalisation inquiry

The Gupta lieutenant said his immediate return to South Africa would be subject to Parliament purchasing him a business-class flight

Gigaba rights queer affairs

Prejudiced officials in the department and transgender people’s IDs will be tackled

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Meyiwa murder case postponed amid drama in court

The murder case of Senzo Meyiwa has been postponed to next month after the appearance of the five suspects in the Boksburg magistrate’s court took an unexpected turn

Does the Expropriation Bill muddy the land question even further?

Land ownership and its equitable distribution has floundered. Changes to a section of the constitution and the expropriation act are now before parliament, but do they offer any solution?

Wheeling and dealing for a Covid-19 vaccine

A Covid-19 jab could cost hundreds of rands. Or not. It’s anyone’s guess. Could another pandemic almost a century ago hold clues for handling the coronavirus today?

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday