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Zimbabwean on ZEP to stay as Motsoaledi loses Constitutional Court appeal

South Africa’s Constitutional Court has dismissed Home Affairs’ latest attempt to overturn a High Court judgment that found the government’s termination of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) regime was unlawful.

The apex court ruled on Tuesday that Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s appeal “bears no reasonable prospects of success.”

Due to the ruling and pending Motsoaledi implementing a proper decision, existing ZEPs remain valid until November 2025.

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In June last year, three judges in the High Court directed the minister to reconsider the termination of the ZEP permit programme, “following a fair process” that complies with the relevant laws.

Pending the outcome of that process, the judges ruled, the permits would remain valid for another 12 months (until the end of June 2024), and ZEP-holders had protection from arrest and deportation.

The case was brought by the HSF and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa after the minister announced the end of the programme in 2021.

Subsequently, he granted further extensions but remained adamant that the 178 000 permit holders must either apply for other visas, if they qualified for them, or return “home”.

In their ruling, Judges Colleen Collis, Gcina Malindi and Mandlenkosi Motha (writing as the court) said the minister had not attempt to solicit representations from those affected before he took the decision.

The first call for representations had been done “after the fact” and was not a “genuine consultation”.

The invitation was “meaningless”, they wrote, and from affidavits before the court, it appeared that there was a “notable disdain for the value of public participation”.

The judges said the minister’s failure to consult, and decision to terminate the programme was unfair and irrational because no attempt had been made to assess the impact on the ZEP holders and their children and the current conditions in Zimbabwe.

In November 2023, the HSF launched an urgent application seeking an “enforcement order” of the June 2023 ruling after the minister, failing to get leave to appeal from the Pretoria court, indicated he was intent on appealing by petition to the SCA.

The HSF believed that this meant the judgment would be automatically suspended, which would put ZEP holders at risk of deportation while the appeal process played out.

But the judges dismissed the application, saying it was not needed and that their judgment guaranteed the rights of ZEP holders until at least June 2024, despite the pending appeal.

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