The South African Department of Home Affairs said Tuesday that it will not deport any Zimbabweans living illegally in the country before the end of March.
Home Affairs Department spokesman Ricky Naidoo said the agency in the meantime will be processing the more than 275,000 applications received from Zimbabwean expatriates seeking four-year permits to work, study or run a business in South Africa.
Sources familiar with the documentation process said many Zimbabweans who missed the December 31 deadline for filing applications are now seeking political asylum in South Africa. But civic activists warned a compelling case must be presented.
Zimbabwe Exiles Forum Director Gabriel Shumba told VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo that said the challenge for asylum seekers will be to prove they have well-warranted fears for their safety and well-being should they be returned to Zimbabwe.
Austin Moyo, chairman of the South African branch of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, told reporter Brenda Moyo that while South African authorities have set a grace period when Zimbabweans will not be deported, after March 31 those in the country illegally will be sent home.
Elsewhere, the International Organization for Migration said it has started to implement a contingency plan to provide humanitarian assistance to Zimbabweans who may be forcibly returned from South Africa to their homeland in the months ahead.