Prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono says many Zimbabweans fear that South Africa extended the validity of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) in order to give a lifeline to ZANU PF ahead of the 23 August 2023 harmonised elections.
Zimbabwe is headed for elections at a time when the cost of living is rising and a low-income urban family of six needs over $1 million a month to survive, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ).
On Wednesday, 07 June, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi extended the validity of the ZEP permits which were expiring on 30 June 2023.
He extended the ZEP permits for a further period of 6 months, ending on 31 December 2023.
Chin’ono added that South Africa may not extend the permits beyond 31 December as doing so may likely affect the ANC’s performance in the 2024 elections. Said Chin’ono:
South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs has extended the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) to December 2023.
The first permit extension was ending in June 2023.
Originally, the permit was meant to be extended by another 5 years last year after a cabinet committee recommended a 5-year extension.
However the South African cabinet decided to use 6 month extension blocks due to the immigration politics which saw a fringe Anti-Immigrant party win votes in South Africa’s mid-term elections.
South Africa goes to elections in 2024, so the latest extension leaves Zimbabweans hopeful, but extremely anxious about what happens after December.
The fear of many Zimbabweans on this permit is that the pro-ZANUPF ruling ANC party decided to release pressure on ZANU-PF as it heads into a watershed election with a battered economy and that it might pull the rug after December to protect itself from a voter backlash in 2024.
At least for now, they can breath again!
Motsoaledi said the holder of a ZEP permit will be allowed to enter and exit South Africa, provided they comply with all entry or exit requirements.
ZEP holders would not be required to present an exemption permit or authorisation letter to remain in the country during the extension period.
During the economic and political strife in Zimbabwe in 2008 and 2009, many Zimbabweans fled to South Africa as economic and political refugees.
At the time, the South African government created a blanket exemption so that Zimbabweans could get permits to live and work legally.
The permits were effectively extended by creating another permit over the years, which has since become known as the ZEP.
More than 178 000 ZEP holders have been in South Africa for over a decade.
On 29 November 2021, a directive was issued by the Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) confirming the cabinet’s decision to discontinue the ZEP scheme.
The ZEP permits, which were due to expire on 31 December 2021, were automatically regarded as valid until 31 December 2022.
On 2 September 2022, the Minister of Home Affairs extended ZEP for an additional 6 months until 30 June 2023 to allow the holders to apply for one or another visa for which they may qualify in terms of the Immigration Act.
However, three civil rights groups challenged the move in the Pretoria High Court.
The Pretoria High Court reserved its ruling in the battle between Home Affairs and the civil groups.