The swelling flood into South Africa of Zimbabweans seeking economic refuge poses a major policy dilemma for Pretoria, which declines to treat them as refugees for the most but on Wednesday refuted reports it will start issuing residency permits.
South African Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said through her press officer, Cleopatra Mosana, that contrary to reports, Pretoria has no plans for now to issue temporary residence permits for Zimbabweans illegally in the country.
Mosana said the minister had referred to residency permits as a possible alternative to establishing refugee camps, as South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance has proposed to cope with the estimated 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa.
The minister said Pretoria “definitely” needs a new approach, and that the range of options that presented themselves included temporary residency permits.
Mapisa-Nqakula also said deporting and arresting illegal immigrants was a waste of public money as many quickly find their way back into the country.
From Pretoria, Mosana told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the minister was also addressing the fact that most Zimbabweans in South Africa are not considered refugees under international conventions.
Cape Town-based political analyst Glenn Mpani said Mapisa-Nqakula's comments indicate Pretoria faces a dilemma on how to deal with the Zimbabwean influx, adding that issuing permits could create a new set of problems for South Africa.