Expired Zimbabwean exemption permit (ZEP) holders who do not apply to be in SA legally must be prepared to face the consequences.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi gave this warning on Tuesday when he appeared in parliament to provide an update on the ZEP process under way.
“The ball is in their court, not in the government’s court. We will deal with them the same way we deal with someone who is in the country illegally and overstayed. There is punishment for that,” he said.
Because the matter is before the court, Motsoaledi said he could not give MPs a detailed update.
He said he issued a directive in December 2021 to inform the public he had decided to extend the exemptions granted to Zimbabwean nationals for 12 months to allow holders to apply for one of the visas provided for in the Immigration Act.
Motsoaledi said the 178,000 people who hold a ZEP were on a special dispensation and were not part of the usual immigration processes.
“We believed it was time we stop something we regarded as temporary so we gave people a year to apply for the other permits.”
On January 7, Motsoaledi said to legalise the directive, he gazetted it and on the same day the department issued a press statement meant to explain to the public, the media and the exemption holders what government was doing and the reasons behind the decision.
Realising the mammoth task ahead, Motsoaledi said he appointed former presidency director-general Dr Caisus Lubisi to work with data analysts, former Scorpions and state capture inquiry investigators to produce a report.
“There are two applications we are expecting from Zimbabweans, namely the visa in terms of the Immigration Act and an application for a waiver where an applicant may say these are their circumstances and they ask for a waiver from what government has directed them to do.
“We realised that work needed experts because it is a special dispensation, so I appointed a team of six, including three officials who were dealing with the reviewing of permits and three senior councils from the private sector.
“They have had several meetings to outline how the work is going to be done so there is common understanding and they follow similar standards when they start working.”
Motsoaledi said on September 1 the team wrote to him to inform him they had developed a plan on how the work was going to be carried out and that they received 4,000 visa applications and 6,000 for the waiver.
“Looking at what is still coming and the amount of work, they advised me it would be better to give an extension of six months until June 30 2023 because there is no way they will be finished by December 2022.
“I acceded to that advice immediately the following day and issued the directive issued on September 2. This directive is exactly the same as the one I issued on December 29 2021. I had to issue it again so there is no legal confusion.”
On the legal issues facing the department, Motsoaledi told MPs organisations and forums representing ZEP holders had taken the department to court regarding the permits.
“The court case has to do with the directive I issued on December 29 2021. The first is the African Amity and Zimbabwean Permit Holders Association. Then we have the Zimbabwean Diaspora Association NPC, the Helen Suzman Foundation and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA as an intervening party. We also have the Zimbabwe Immigration Federation.”
He said the court case is to be heard in October.
“We are not running away from the court case. We have written to the Pretoria high court in view of this extension. Certain papers have been required from us, new affidavits need to be written and we believe the dates that have been agreed will no longer be possible.”
He said government was not targeting Zimbabweans.
“I know people say we are only targeting Zimbabweans, but the Basotho permit is expiring at the end of December 2023. The Zimbabwean permits expired in December 2021. This is because they were issued at different times.”