When 31 December 2022 arrives, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, like his peers in Cabinet, will be with their families and will not have to fear being displaced from a country they’ve called home.
Instead, this will be the reality for thousands of Zimbabweans who will be affected by Cabinet’s decision made last December to cancel, without consideration, the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP).
The resolve was made without due regard for what would happen to tens of thousands of people who came to South Africa seeking nothing but a better life, and whose lives will now be upended by this decision.
The exemption permits were granted to more than 250 000 Zimbabweans who were among more than estimated two million who migrated to neighbouring countries at the height of Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis in 2008 and 2009.
The temporary measure was meant to regularise their presence in South Africa and allow Zimbabweans access to services such as banking. But now government has decided to cancel this measure without putting proper plans in place.
The one-year grace period expires at the end of this year.
In justifying government’s decision, Motsoaledi bemoaned how “people keep blaming the immigration services of South Africa, as if when one country creates a crisis, the country closest to it must respond by building the requisite capacity to deal with that crisis. That’s the logic here”.
The thing is, the South African government did play a role in the political crises that engulfed Zimbabwe, resulting in the economic crises, by allowing the Mugabe regime to get away with rigging the 2002 election and many other crimes after that.
There’s much to be said about former president Thabo Mbeki’s complicity in the actions of the Mugabe regime as was revealed by the Khampepe report, which government spent 12 years blocking from becoming public.
Those who got caught in the crossfire of the political and economic crises in Zimbabwe did all they could to flee for a better life, turning to neighbouring South Africa for refuge.
Now, these people face further displacement as they risk deportation once the permits expire at the end of the year.
Those who left Zimbabwe and settled in South Africa, have called this home for over 10 years. They have had children here and built their lives here.
As you will see in News24’s Unwelcomed Neighbours, the decision to revoke the permit affects all types of people from across the social spectrum. It impacts on teachers, truck drivers and doctors. It will separate families and leave others stranded without cars or access to banking.
It interrupts university students who were trying to complete their degrees and it affects people like Angeline, who has been living and working in South Africa for near on a decade, but will not be able to seek treatment for brain cancer at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, without a valid permit.
She is currently in remission, but fears for her life. Gladys says she has sleepless nights because she does not even have a home in Zimbabwe. “l don’t know where I am going to live when I get deported. I am going to sleep in the street because l have nowhere to go to,” she said.
Others like Kelvin Chinyemba are worried about what this decision means for their children.
“The main issue is with kids who are going to school. Some are already at a higher level, so changing them to a new different curriculum is a big obstacle. Now the banks are threatening to freeze the accounts. It’s all a mess,” he said.
As many activists and ordinary people affected by this decision will tell you, government’s processes make applying for another permit difficult and sometimes almost impossible.
People like Obey Shana want to comply with government’s decision, but believe a grace period of one year does not give them enough time to sort out their lives, to either return to Zimbabwe or to apply for the necessary documentation in South Africa.
What further stood out for us in probing the impact of Cabinet’s decision to end the ZEP was the fear among ordinary Zimbabweans of being identified. They are worried that they will fall victim to movements like Operation Dudula, who have been emboldened in their xenophobia by government’s decision.
With just six months to go until the permit is cancelled, tens of thousands of Zimbabweans – our neighbours – will no longer be welcome in South Africa and their lives will be turned upside down again. In the spirit of ubuntu, we should all be ashamed.