File picture of Zimbabwean exiles in South Africa

Panic grips Zimbabweans in South Africa

… some Zimbabweans working in South Africa’s transport, hospitality and tourism business have since been informed that their Zimbabwe Exemption Permit will not be renewed.

ZIMBABWEANS living and working in South Africa are on a knife edge as most have permits that are expiring next month and the chances of renewal are very slim.

South Africa hosts the largest number of immigrants on the African continent. Official South African government statistics say 2.9 million people living in South Africa are foreigners.

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The majority, 24% are from Zimbabwe, followed by Mozambique with 12%. Lesotho 7%, Malawi 3%, Botswana, Eswatini, Angola, Somalia each contribute 2% to the foreign population.

The majority of these Zimbabweans are holding onto papers that may soon turn worthless, and time is running out. The South African government is not making the situation any easier.

Pretoria is yet to announce the fate of Zimbabweans in South Africa. There have been proposals to have legislation restricting foreign nationals in Africa’s second largest economy.

The matter, however, is still to be considered by the Pretoria Cabinet. The next Cabinet sitting is scheduled for next week, according to the Department of Home Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, which issued a statement this week.

Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Africa David Hamadziripi said there was anxiety and panic among Zimbabweans in South Africa.

“The embassy is aware of the real anxiety over the fate of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) which expires on 31 December 2021. The government of South Africa which, by now should have announced its decision on the future of the ZEP is yet to do so,” Hamadziripi told Business Times.

“The Department of Home Affairs has stated that the issue is before the Cabinet and an announcement will be made once Cabinet has disposed of the matter. The Embassy has been in regular contact and communication with the relevant officials over this matter since April this year.”

Hamadziripi, however, said the embassy was not aware of the intention not to renew the permits for Zimbabweans.

Hamadziripi said he was, however, aware of stories about the planned protests by some organisations representing South African truck drivers calling for the dismissal of foreign truck drivers.

“This is not the first time that these calls and demands are being made in this sector. Over the past three years there have been several episodes during which protesting South African truck drivers have violently attacked foreign truck drivers, in which some Zimbabwean nationals have been victims, blocked highways and burnt trucks in several provinces of South Africa,” he said.

There have been moves to promulgate laws banning all foreign drivers from driving South African registered trucks.

It is understood some Zimbabweans working in the transport, hospitality and tourism business have since been informed that their Zimbabwean Exemption Permit will not be renewed.

This has therefore triggered a massive outcry among Zimbabweans living in South Africa also considering that there has not been a clear communication from the South African government on the fate of foreigners going forward.

Hamadziripi said the government has established a multi – departmental team, up to ministerial level, to address the South African truck drivers’ expressed grievances. “Such measures could include the setting of quotas of foreigners to be employed in specific sectors, especially those that do require any special skills,” Hamadziripi said.

Xenophobia has been a thorny issue in South Africa for many years now.

A report by the United Nations Refugee Agency states that one of the triggers for xenophobic violence in South Africa includes “leadership vacuums and competition for community leadership that allow for the emergence of parallel and self-serving leadership structure

This means that authority figures are often instigators of, or complicit in, violence against foreigners, or are judged ineffective in protecting foreigners.

Spaza shops owned by foreign nationals in townships have often been looted and set on fire during xenophobic attacks.

Latest data shows that last year, at least 70 foreigners were either threatened, attacked or murdered in South Africa.

In May 2008, a series of xenophobic attacks left 60 people dead. South African politicians have also been accused of fanning flames of xenophobia.

Recently, South Africans took to social media streets to voice their concerns over the issue of work permit renewals for Zimbabwean nationals who are currently under the exemption permits which were introduced in 2009 in a bid to formalise a million Zimbabweans staying in South Africa.

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