By Alex Bell
The South African government has extended the deadline for Zimbabweans to get permits to remain legally in the country, with thousands of people still to receive their paperwork.
The Zimbabwe Documentation Project was set to be finalised at the end of this month, and South African officials said they would resume deporting undocumented Zim nationals when the process was completed.
But according to the Cape Town based refugee rights group PASSOP, thousands of people have not got their documents yet, and fear has been rising that they face possible deportation in the coming weeks. The group then wrote to South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma this week, asking for a two month extension on the deadline, to ensure that every Zimbabwean who successfully applied for permits could get them.
According to PASSOP, the deadline has now been moved, after the Home Affairs Department’s Deputy Director General Jackie McKay said the process will be concluded at the end of August, instead of the end of July.
About 276 000 applications for permits were made by Zim nationals since the documentation process was launched last year, despite more than two million Zimbabweans estimated to be in the country. South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs last month said it still needed to hand over about 100 000 permits, but insisted that it would meet its July 31st deadline. The department also confirmed that it would be resuming deportations when the process was completed.
PASSOP’s Langton Miriyoga told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the one month extension on the deadline is welcome, but he said this still might not be adequate, given the high number of people still waiting. He agreed with the estimate that at least 100 000 people have not got their permits yet.
“This extension gives Zimbabweans some breathing room, but we are concerned that not everyone will get their documents in this extra month. There is also the concern that many people are yet to get their passports from the Zimbabwean consulate, and this might take longer than a month,” Miriyoga said.Zimbabwe’s failure to issue enough passports to its citizens in South Africa has been the major stumbling block of the documentation process, which has repeatedly been extended since it was launched last September. Thousands of Zim nationals were eventually forced to apply for South African permits without passports. But without these documents, they can’t finalise their applications or regularise their stay in South Africa.
PASSOP’s Miriyoga said the South African government should be putting more pressure on the Zimbabwean government to ensure the passports are rolled out in time. He meanwhile said that the South African authorities have not yet confirmed if they are adjusting their plans to resume deportations to match the new deadline.
“They haven’t said anything about the deportations yet. This is a major issue that people are concerned about and we will need to engage with the authorities on this,” Miriyoga said.