Zimbabweans in South Africa face uncertain future over ZEP status

Thousands of Zimbabwean permit holders are living in uncertainty because the South African government has not yet indicated whether it will renew their permits. It’s difficult to ascertain how many Zimbabweans there are in South Africa. According to data collected from Africa Check, the number of migrants from Zimbabwe living in South Africa is well under a million. And come December 2021, Zimbabwean permit holders face an uncertain future.

[UPDATE AS OF August 27] In response to questions from The Daily Vox, the department said an announcement about what happens with the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit after 31 December 2021 will be made in due course. 

[Update as of August 25] VFS Global has told The Daily Vox their role is limited to the administration of the permit. They schedule appointments, accept applications and fees, enrol in biometrics and submit applications to the department. The adjudication of the permit applications is done by the department. VFS Global has no role in the decision making process, they said.

What is a ZEP?

The ZEP was a permit issued to Zimbabweans who had a valid Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP). On September 8, 2017 the South African government issued a statement by then home affairs minister Hlengiwe Mkhize about the closure of the (ZSP). Minister Mkhize announced the opening of the new Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP). Before the ZSP, there was the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation permit. 

With the deadline approaching for the ZEP, the department has not mentioned what will happen next. 

The ZEP permits were issued for a maximum period of four years. They begin on January 1, 2018 and are set to expire on December 31, 2021. An administrative fee of R1090 was charged to ZSP permit holders that wanted to remain in South Africa. 

The permits and applications centres are managed by VFS Global for the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). Applicants are required to submit a completed application form and supporting documents online through the VFS global website. 

Applicants were required to make an appointment at the VFS Global application centre and attend this appointment in person to complete the application process and submit their biometrics. Minors did not need to attend the submission process. Applicants are required to provide their valid Zimbabwean passport and copies of the permit along with other supporting documents. 

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There are three categories of people who are allowed to apply. People are allowed to apply for work, if they own a business and if they are studying. Each of the categories require a letter from the relevant institutions. 

The ZEP conditions state that the permit “does not entitle the holder the right to apply for permanent residence irrespective of the period of stay in the RSA.” It also states that “ZEP permits will not be renewable/extendable.”

How does it affect people?

The Daily Vox spoke to David, a Zimbabwean man, about his concerns regarding the status of ZEP permit renewal. David is a delivery driver at a stationery company and lives in Cape Town with his wife and three children. He has been living in South Africa for 18 years.

“I started with an asylum seeker permit before I got the ZDP, ZSP and the ZEP. I’m anxious about the permits not being renewed because my livelihood is at risk,” he said.  David said he needs to provide for his family. However, without a valid permit, he is at risk of losing his job and his bank accounts could be frozen.  

“My children who also have ZEP permits that entitle them to conduct studies, will also be at risk of losing access to their education. I am fearful and anxious about the future,” said David. 

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The Daily Vox has reached out to the Department of Home Affairs regarding the renewal of the ZEP permits. The story will be updated once comment has been received.