/ 8 June 2023

Home affairs department extends Zimbabwe permits by six more months to December

Zimbabwean Nationals wait outside Home Affairs in Pretoria for days for permits in 2021. (Madelene Cronjé)

South Africa’s government has extended the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), due to expire at the end of June, by another six months to December 2023, citing a wave of visa and waiver applications.

In a media statement explaining the decision, the department of home affairs said there have been “significant developments” since the permit — which has allowed tens of thousands of Zimbabweans to live, work and study in South Africa since 2009 — was first extended to 30 June 2023.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has approved thousands of waivers, resulting in a significant increase in the number of applications received by the department, the statement said.  

Since May and the beginning of June, the department’s visa facilitation system has received between 1 000 and 1 500 visa and waiver applications from affected Zimbabweans daily, prompting its director general to deploy more officials to assist with processing them.

Earlier this year, the Helen Suzman Foundation challenged the department’s decision to terminate the permit in the Pretoria high court, contending that it infringed on the constitutional rights of ZEP-holders.

The reprieve was first introduced in 2009, as part of the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP) and successive home affairs ministers have since deemed it an important gesture of solidarity and pan-Africanism.

In 2014, when then minister Malusi Gigaba announced the DZP would be replaced by the Zimbabwean Special Permit, he recognised that the prospect of termination had caused anguish to people who had “made notable contributions in our education and health sectors … and in many other sectors”.

In 2017, when the special permit was converted into the exemption permit, the government said it was mindful of its “political imperative to build peace and friendship in the continent”.

But in January 2022, noting South Africa’s unemployment crisis, Motsoaledi said he approved a recommendation not to extend the exemptions to the Zimbabweans. The permit was always “a temporary measure, pending improvement of the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe”, he said.

The minister gave ZEP-holders a 12-month grace period, to 31 December 2022, to apply for visas. The exemption permit was later extended to six months to June 2023.