Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says that the government is moving ahead with its plans to end the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit in South Africa.
This follows earlier reports that his department had withdrawn a circular on the decision on Monday (13 November), seemingly backtracking on the planned change that would force about 200,000 Zimbabweans to return home.
Speaking to radio station 702, Motsoaledi said that while the circular had been withdrawn, this was due to a clerical issue, not a change of policy. The government would not be renewing the permit, he said.
The policy was first introduced in 2009 by then-Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as a temporary solution to a growing refugee crisis related to Zimbabwe. While the dispensation was initially catering to a few thousand people, it quickly ballooned to over 400,000 individuals.
Motsoaledi said the permit was always supposed to be a temporary solution and was subsequently renewed three times over the last decade. The idea was never for Zimbabweans to stay in the country on the permit permanently.
The plan is to end the permit on 31 December and allow permit-holders to apply for different visas and permits – or face deportation after 12 months.
“There should not be any impression that the decision about terminating the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit – and then giving them a 12 month grace period to apply for other statuses – there is no withdrawal of that decision,” Motsoaledi said.
“What we have withdrawn is a circular that was issued by officials within the Department of Home Affairs – a circular explaining to the banks what they must do. That circular was wrong, it was not supposed to be issued. It was causing more confusion.
“But the initial decision to end the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit – nothing has changed, and nothing is going to change,” he said.
The decision to end the permits drew a chorus of complaints from human rights groups that threatened to mount a court challenge.
Activists have argued that Zimbabweans who have been living in South Africa for more than a decade were going to be sent back to a country with few economic opportunities and high levels of political repression.
The exemption only applied to Zimbabweans who entered South Africa before the arrangement was enacted in 2009.
According to government statistics, South Africa has a population of about 60 million, including about 3 million migrants. Many are Zimbabweans driven south by two decades of politically linked violence and economic collapse. The majority are undocumented and do not hold the permit.