South Africa will not renew special residence permits granted to nearly 200,000 Zimbabweans when they expire at the end of this month, officials announced Thursday.
Mondli Gungubele, the minister in the presidency, said permit holders will be granted another year to apply for other permits and regularise their stay, at the end of which those who fail to secure permits must voluntarily leave or be deported.
“Following its deliberations, cabinet has decided to no longer issue extensions to the Zimbabweans and special dispensations,” Gungubele told journalists during a post-cabinet briefing on Thursday.
“However, cabinet decided on a 12-month grace period at the expiry of current exemption permits. In this period holders of this permit should apply for other permits appropriate to their particular status or situation.
“At the expiry of this grace period, those who are not successful would have to depart the Republic of South Africa or be deported.”
In April 2009, South Africa’s cabinet approved what was known as the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP) in a bid to document Zimbabweans living and working illegally in Africa’s most industrialised nation.
Some 295,000 Zimbabweans applied for the five-year permits and just over 245,000 were issued, allowing permit holders to work, conduct business and study in South Africa.
Those permits started expiring in December 2014, prompting the government to introduce a new permit scheme called the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permits (ZSPs), which were valid for three years.
Nearly 198,000 ZSPs were issued, according to the Department of Home Affairs. When the ZSPs expired in 2017 they were replaced by Zimbabwean Exemption Permits, or ZEPs, which expire on December 31.
Last month, lawyers representing the permit holders 2009 went to court demanding that the permit holders should be granted permanent residence, a pathway to citizenship.
Under South Africa’s immigration law, foreigners can apply for South African citizenship through naturalisation if they have held a permanent residence permit for at least five years.
The South African government says they do not qualify for permanent residence because of the nature of their permits which were a discretionary facility.
By Mduduzi Mathuthu