By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
23 June 2014
South Africa has advised Zimbabwean nationals who were given permits in 2010 under the Dispensation for Zimbabweans programme to ‘wait patiently and with no panic’ as Pretoria moves to review the process ahead of the expiry of the documents.
In March the South African government decided on a process to review the dispensation and since then panic has seized the Zimbabwean refugees who fear that they may be returned to their still unstable country. With some of the permits having already started to expire, the exiles are busy lobbying for the revalidation of the documents
On Friday, Home Affairs Director General Mkuseli Apleni used the UN World Refugee Day commemoration to assure Zimbabweans that Pretoria remains committed to ‘securing the legal protection of refugees.’ He said: ‘South Africa subscribes to the principle that refuges may not be returned, directly or indirectly, to countries where they risk persecution.’
Apleni’s assurances came as Harare was reportedly keen to meet Pretoria to discuss the ‘possible renewal of permits.’ Reports quoted Zimbabwe’s acting ambassador, Samuel Mhango, saying they had already requested a meeting with the South African government.
Mhango said the two governments will discuss ‘critical issues involving permits, new regulations and issues affecting Zimbabweans.’
The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum welcomed both the assurances from Pretoria and the initiative by the Zimbabwean government saying it should go a long way in calming its troubled members. The forum’s spokesperson, Diana Zimbudzana, said they hope that the wait will ‘not be too long’ because employers are unwilling to retain the workers whose permits have already expired or are about to expire.
No one knows exactly how many Zimbabweans are in South Africa and estimates vary between two and three million. Of this number 250,000 were recipients of the permits.
Despite the assurances there is still tension and fears that Pretoria could be planning radical changes in line with its new tough immigration rules. Announced in May the new rules saw the toughening of visa requirements for all foreigners looking to visit, study, work, live and own a business in South Africa.