The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) has launched legal action to challenge South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision to terminate the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP).
The permit allowed nearly 200 000 Zimbabweans to live and work in that country legally.
However, in November 2021, the SA Cabinet took a decision not to renew the permits when they expired on 31 December.
ZEP holders were given a 12 months grace period to apply for other types of permits or leave.
HSF argues that the decision will leave thousands of Zimbabweans desperate and vulnerable. It said:
It is not the position of HSF that those migrants who are in South Africa unlawfully should be entitled to remain, nor even that the ZEP must continue in perpetuity.
Rather, our position is that those who have scrupulously observed South Africa’s laws in order to live and work here, under the ZEP, cannot have such permits terminated without fair process, good reason and a meaningful opportunity to regularise their status. It is what our constitutional order demands.
Civil rights groups argued it would be impossible for current ZEP holders to successfully apply for other permits, meaning they will have no option but to leave the country. Said the foundation:
This special dispensation regime has offered legal protection to approximately 178 000 Zimbabwean nationals, allowing them to live, work and study in South Africa.
It has prevailed for well over a decade, meaning that permit-holders have built lives, families and careers here, and contributed to South Africa and its economy.
At present, ZEP holders must have obtained other forms of residency authorisation — in the vast majority of cases, an almost impossible requirement — by 31 December 2022 or leave South Africa.
They will be put to a desperate choice: to remain in South Africa as undocumented migrants with all the vulnerability that attaches to such status or return to a Zimbabwe that, to all intents and purposes, is unchanged from the country they fled.
There are thousands of children, who have been born in South Africa to ZEP holders during this time, who have never even visited their parents’ country of origin.