The Zimbabwean government says it will officer counselling to people returning to the country from South Africa after the expiry of their Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) to ensure their smooth reintegration.
This, despite ZEP holders’ low interest in returning.
The permits were meant to expire in December last year but a six-month extension was granted to 30 June.
An estimated 180 000 Zimbabweans are in SA on ZEPs; by December last year, fewer than 10% had applied for the available mainstream visas.
Some hoped that the Zimbabwean government would engage with its South African counterparts for a further extension.
However, that was not the case.
The Zimbabwe government has been conducting a mapping exercise since March to find out how many people are interested in assistance with their return.
The response from ZEP holders “was way below our expectations,” Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa told the state-run media in Zimbabwe.
The only window of hope available for those wishing to stay in South Africa legally is a court challenge the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) and Zimbabwe Immigration Federation had lodged.
The matter is yet to be heard.
However, those who plan to make the trip back to Zimbabwe will have access to counselling services to prepare them mentally for what lies ahead.
This was revealed at a government counselling and psychological workshop in Bulawayo, the second-largest city in the country.
In a speech presented at the workshop, social welfare permanent secretary Simon Masanga said: “Sharpening our counselling skills is a way in which these committees (receiving the returnees) can be capacitated.
“This training will empower the frontline officers to be equipped with skills to handle the returnees upon and post arrival,” he said.
At the workshop, World Health Organisation (WHO) psychologist Dr Debra Machando said the relocation was regarded as a humanitarian crisis because “they are not relocating voluntarily, they are being deported”.
In recent reports by News24 and other media outlets, some people said they would not return because of the volatile economy and political situation in Zimbabwe.
Some said they had applied for caregiver jobs in the United Kingdom and other countries.
The 2023 World Happiness Report released last month ranked Zimbabwe as the fourth unhappiest country in the world at 134 out of 137 countries.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was ranked at 133, while Sierra Leone was 135th, marking them as the unhappiest countries in Africa.
Zimbabwe will be holding its general elections between late July and late August.
However, those who return home won’t be on time for late registration to vote.