Zimbabweans get four-year grace

Zimbabweans have become part of South Africa’s fabric. There are anywhere between one and three million Zimbabweans living and working in the country.

More than 200 000 Zimbabweans are here on a special visa that will expire at the end of the year. Although government has outlined paths for them to remain in the country legally, the process is clouded by confusion and bureaucratic hurdles.

It should come as little surprise that, seven years after South Africa introduced the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (ZDP), which offered amnesty to Zimbabweans who had been living in the country with fraudulent documents, those who hold these permits have become part of South Africa’s economic and social makeup.

A total of 242 731 Zimbabweans were granted a permit under the banner of the ZDP in 2010. The department of home affairs waived fees and the need for certain supporting documents, including passports.

Shortly before the ZDP was due to expire in December 2014, the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation permit (ZSP) replaced it, under the same condition that it would not be renewable.

Instead, ZSP holders were advised that, following the permit’s expiration on December 31 2017, those who qualified for a standard visa in South Africa would have to apply in Zimbabwe, where the processing time is about two months, without accounting for delays. Those who did not qualify for a standard visa would have to return to Zimbabwe.

But, as the December 31 deadline approached, there was little clarity from home affairs about how it would be implemented, causing uncertainty among Zimbabwean permit holders, their families and their employers.