Officials in South Africa say the process of issuing residency permits to Zimbabweans in the country will be concluded by the end of this month, but non-governmental activists representing the interests of Zimbabweans have expressed the concern that many will not be able to assemble all their documents and complete the process by then.
Addressing a meeting Monday of NGO stakeholders, Zimbabwean Consul General Godfrey Magwenzi said fewer than 10,000 passport applications out of 72,261 received by the consulate remain to be processed.
Magwenzi said the passports will be distributed in Johannesburg to people who will be notified by SMS text message that their documents are ready to be picked up.
Officials said those still in need of Zimbabwean birth certificates will have to have a family member in Zimbabwe pick up the certificate and send it.
The situation is more difficult for Zimbabweans who filed a preliminary application for a residency permit without providing identification documents or who surrendered false documents. Consulate officials said they must apply for new identification documents in Zimbabwe, and get a passport there before returning to South Africa, which NGO stakeholders said was unfair to those who are now living in South Africa.
Functionaries of the Zimbabwean registrar general's office were sent to Johannesburg last year to process birth certificates and other documents, but this was discontinued in 2011. Consulate officials said Zimbabweans needing documentation have been expected to return to Zimbabwe to obtain such papers since the beginning of the year.
NGO stakeholders said this is likely to be complicated for Zimbabweans who are at risk of losing their livelihoods in South Africa while traveling or finding themselves unable to return to the country once they have crossed the border into Zimbabwe.
Magwenzi said the consulate can issue emergency travel documents – but applicants can only return to South Africa bearing proper papers.
Ngqubutho Dube, a member of the Zimbabwean stakeholders group which attended the meeting on Monday, said the Zimbabwean Consulate should do more to help those who still lack documents needed to obtain a South African residency permit.
Dube told VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo that with a July deadline only 18 business days away, Zimbabweans going home to get documents must pay a minimum of US$250 to have passports processed in a week, or US$350 for a three-day turnaround.