THE South African government yesterday announced that it will not renew Special Zimbabwean Exemption Permits, which provided for the documentation of qualified Zimbabweans for a five-year period.

The first Zimbabwean special dispensation started in 2009 and was called the Dispensation for Zimbabwe Permit.

In a statement after a Cabinet meeting, Minister in the President’s Office Mondli Gungubele said Zimbabweans will enjoy a 12 months grace period to sort out their papers. However, the lawyer representing SA-based Zimbabweans demanding permanent residency, Simba Chitando insisted that the litigants are justified and entitled to the same benefits of the respective laws in the host countries.

Zimbabweans have formed a lobby called the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association.

Harare’s envoy to Pretoria David Hamadziripi said the lawsuit was a justified decision.

Gungubele said: “In 2014, the dispensation was extended by three years and called the Zimbabwean Special Permit. The current ZEP was initiated in 2017 and comes to an end on 31 December 2021.

“Following its deliberations, Cabinet decided to no longer issue extensions to the Zimbabwean special dispensations. However, it decided on a 12-month grace period at the expiry of the current ZEP.”

Gungubele also added that Zimbabweans who would not be successful with their applications at the expiry of this 12-month period would have to leave South Africa or be deported.

Meanwhile, Chitando said the South African government was exposing Zimbabwean immigrants to exploitation as long as their stay was not guaranteed.

“I have observed that Zimbabweans in the United States and Canada, for instance, have received the full benefit of migration laws in those jurisdictions, and have thrived.  Unfortunately, our most immediate neighbour has been less kind,” he said.

“They have exploited our people with this Zimbabwe Exemption Permit, which is designed to extract labour without rights, which is why I call it a slave permit, leaving permanent residency to other nationals.

“This is in contradiction to the spirit of Pan-Africanism, and an unfriendly way to deal with a neighbour, and major trading partner,” Chitando added.

He said the court application arose after Zimbabwean nationals, on the ZEP, had been exploited for a decade by a permit which uses their labour, but denies them the rights of permanent residency, even though they are permanently resident in the country.

“After the failed negotiations by Mabhena, amongst others, to extend the permit, weeks before termination, which has resulted in retrenchments, I was briefed to launch legal proceedings before the courts to put an end to the chaos once and for all,” Chitando said.

He said many South Africans support the provisions of permanent residency to Zimbabweans, who permanently reside in South Africa.

“This is because we are skilled people adding value to the economy, with strong links to the community, irreplaceable to South Africa and in many cases, South Africans have Zimbabwean family members,” Chitando said.

“Unfortunately, there is a group of South Africans, with an Afrophobic agenda, threatened by Zimbabweans, without any rational justification. This group has resorted to violence, incitement of violence and intimidation.”

He also expressed confidence that the lawsuit would be successful.

“This case is unprecedented, and for that reason, will always have doubters.  That said, I would never argue a case I believe has no merit,” Chitando said.

“I am not fazed by the protests in the slightest.  I will press on with the case regardless of any negative pressure from both the South African, and tragically, some members of the Zimbabwean community.

“I have received threats, which have been reported, and in some cases, made in public, but I am encouraged that they have been condemned by the General Council of the Bar, and the Legal Practice Council.”

The Home Affairs department in South Africa last week had also dismissed reports that the special exemption permits had been extended for five years.

“The Department of Home Affairs has noted a misleading online news article, purportedly emanating from Zimbabwe, which has subsequently been followed by social media posts claiming that Zimbabwe Exemption Permits have been extended for a period of five years,” it said.

“This is patently untrue. Peddling this untruth is obviously aimed at pressuring the South African government into making a particular decision in relation to these permits.

“Secondly, in South Africa, there is nothing called a Home Affairs Ministerial Committee on Zimbabwe Permits. Such a committee has never existed at Home Affairs.”