The South African government says Zimbabweans who have failed to regularize their status under a special permit program will face deportation after Wednesday’s registration deadline.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told journalists in Pretoria that beneficiaries of the Zimbabwe Special Permit program found without proper documents will be considered illegal immigrants.
Gigaba said as of Tuesday 207,802 applications have been processed out of the expected 245,000 eligible permit holders.
“Among those hundreds of thousands granted permits which were booked online, and so the process of booking appointments for submissions and biometrics enrollments will continue until the end of February 2015,” said Gibaga
“We expect that during the course of the New Year especially of those who have submitted all their documents and who have been checked against the automated identification system of the police will begin receiving their new permits."
The minister said the processing of the permits has gone smoothly compared to the 2010 Zimbabwe dispensation permit program although not all permit holders applied during this current exercise.
“As at close of business today [Wednesday] we are going to close this process down all together, those who have not applied will have missed the boat,” said Gibaga.
Zimbabweans seeking to regularize their stay began applying on October 1st, but some faced challenges including long waiting times and crashing of the application website.
Diana Zimbudzana, projects coordinator with the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum spent the day opening doors to accommodate all permit holders, who had failed to file their applications.
After opening the Forum offices during midday, the organization helped more than 10 people.
“When the system application started in October, 1st of October it was very difficult the website itself was not very user friendly, but they twerked it a little bit and its now user friendly for people who come, even the phone calls,” said Zimbudzana.
Commenting on the flurry of permit holders who delayed their application until the last day, she said many people had logistical reasons, while some just waited until the last minute.
“Some of them didn’t have valid passports so they had to rush back to Zimbabwe and apply for new passports, others had to apply for passports at their consulate here but had to wait for passports to be issued, others did not know about us they didn’t know we were assisting applicants,” said Zimbudzana.
Daniel Muzenda, communications manager of the Zimbabwe Migrants Association, said organizations based in South Africa remained worried about the calls to deport those individuals who missed the deadline and will still lobby the ministry of home affairs to help Zimbabweans who failed to apply for the permits.
“We are waiting for the response from the department of South Africa home affairs to see what they can do to accommodate those people rather than simply deporting them, we are still applying to the SA government to reconsider,” said Muzenda.
Some 245,000 Zimbabweans were expected to regularize their status in South Africa after receiving their permits during the first phase of the special permit programme which started in 2009. The 2009 permit program received an underwhelming response as there are an estimated 1 to 3 million in the country.
This phase of the Zimbabwe Special Permit will extend and regularise permit holders stay until 2017.