Home South African Govt challenged in court over termination of Zimbabwe special permits

Govt challenged in court over termination of Zimbabwe special permits


The Helen Suzman Foundation argues that the decision to terminate the special permits does not consider that the 180,000 Zimbabweans have built homes, families and in some cases careers within South Africa.

File picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

PRETORIA – The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) said its legal action challenging the minister of Home Affairs on the Cabinet decision to terminate the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) was triggered by the “unfairness” in the process followed by Pretoria authorities.

“These are individuals who have been in South Africa lawfully for over a decade. The permits have been renewed every three to four years amounting to a decade. The position of the HSF is not that the Zimbabwe exemption permits should be renewed in perpetuity but the decision, when it came from the minister last year that these permits would be terminated, it was with very little notice and no consultation with those who would bear the most prejudicial impact of the decision,” Nicole Fritz, chief executive of the Helen Suzman Foundation told broadcaster eNCA.

“There has been various organisations engaging with the minister, attempting to persuade him to change his stance and that has not come to any sort of fruitful conclusion. We are going to court to say the manner in which this decision was made without consultation, and very little notification provides no procedure of fairness to these individuals.”

The foundation had already filed court papers challenging the termination of the special permits.

The Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP), which ended on December 31, 2021, will not be extended. Those with a permit have a 12-month grace period to either apply for another type of permit or leave the country. Cabinet supported Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision.

In December last year, in an interview with IOL, Motsoaledi clarified that that no rescission had been made to the Cabinet decision which resolved that ZEP, which were expiring December 31, would not be renewed.

In November, the South African government announced that holders of the special permit were being given 12 months to apply for other permits “appropriate to their particular status or situation” within South Africa’s mainstream visa regime – if they intend to remain in South Africa after the expiry of the 12-months grace period.

Government announced that those who are not successful will have to leave South Africa or face deportation.

Motsoaledi said the ZEP permits faced a plethora of limitations, even for the permit holders in South Africa.

However, Fritz said the majority of the 180,000 Zimbabweans who are on the ZEPs do not qualify for any other permits on South Africa’s mainstream visa regime.

She said the decision to terminate the special permits does not seem to consider that the Zimbabweans have built homes, families and in some cases careers in South Africa.

“It is those consultations that have to happen and will then lead to kind of a fair decision and allow for respect. Our courts and our justice system is consistent that we have to safeguard the rights of the weakest among us, those who cannot use democratic processes. These Zimbabwean permit holders cannot vote and cannot call a Member of Parliament and the only avenue available to them is the court system,” she said.

In December, Motsoaledi said the special permit cannot continue in perpetuity.

“That permit was special. It is not in any act in South Africa. It was under special circumstances and you can’t live ‘special’ forever. One of the conditions of that permit was that you are not to apply for any other status, meaning even people who qualify for a higher status could not apply for it,” said Motsoaledi at the time.

“By higher status, what do I mean? You are aware that in South Africa if you marry a South African, it doesn’t matter from which part of the world you are from, once you marry a South African you have the right to apply for citizenship… Now, in terms for the ZEP, even if you attain that status of marriage, you cannot apply for any other status – which is unfair.”

He said the special permit for Zimbabweans “had to come to an end”.

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