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South Africa Not Yet Deporting Defaulting Zimbabwe Permit Seekers

FILE - Zimbabweans fill out application forms outside Immigration offices in Johannesburg.

The South African government says it will not start deporting Zimbabweans who did not reapply for the Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP) scheme as the Home Affairs Department is currently undergoing a process to tally and find out what happened to the remaining 35,000 former permit holders.

In an interview with VOA Studio 7, spokesman of the South African Home Affairs Department, Mayihlome Tshwete, said the country is not yet clear on the number of Zimbabweans that have regularized their stay under the latest permit scheme.

Tshwete said some of the people who did not reapply under the permit scheme may have found other means to regularize their stay in South Africa or even gone back to Zimbabwe.

There have been reports that the South African government will start deporting those people under the programme who did not beat the December 31st deadline to regularize their status in the country

But officials are establishing the status of those who didn’t apply for the extension.

“We tried to make people understand that some people used the ZSP for study reasons, and others might have been married, in the four years, five years they have been here, and others might have moved back to Zimbabwe, so there isn’t a 35,000 just waiting around to be deported,” said Tshwete.

“We are still going to tally up and try to find out what happened to most of the people, but what we do know is that a good number of them have moved from the ZSP to ordinary work permits."

Tshwete added that it’s important to understand the program, which started in in 2010 under the Zimbabwe dispensation permit program. The scheme was designed to regularize the status of illegal Zimbabweans staying in the country.

After the application process was closed, 245,000 Zimbabweans had regularized their status in South Africa and received permits for study, work or business. The permit program received an underwhelming response as there is an estimated one to three million Zimbabweans in the country.

“It wasn’t the complete sum of Zimbabwean foreign nationals in South Africa and it doesn’t represent all Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa, it was specifically for those people who were in the country illegally,” said Tshwete.

He explained that deportations in South Africa, like any other country, occur if a foreigner is undocumented.

“To the extent that deportations will happen they will happen if anybody is undocumented, whether they are Zimbabwean or an American. It’s not an intention to target Zimbabwean nationals, everyone should be documented.

Permit holders must follow the same immigration laws of regularizing their stay outside of the ZSP.