Maverick Citizen


Court reprieve for Zimbabwean Extension Permit holders does little to quell panic

Court reprieve for Zimbabwean Extension Permit holders does little to quell panic
Zimbabwean nationals wait in long queues at Home affairs in Rissik Street in Johannesburg on 13 December 2010. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Marianne Schwankhart)

Permit holders may have been afforded a 12-month reprieve in June, but many say their relief was short-lived, with the Minister of Home Affairs now challenging the court ruling. While figuring out their (limited) options, many have to contend with locals’ ill feeling towards them and the threat of losing their livelihoods.

Kelvin Kambasha travelled to South Africa from Zimbabwe to “look for something better” in the wake of Zimbabwe’s sociopolitical and economic instability of the mid-2000s. He had no one to rely on and needed to quickly become industrious. He found employment first as a van assistant before being promoted to heavy-duty driver once he obtained a Code 14 licence.

“If they terminate the permits completely, I will suffer a lot because my licence and my experience will be of value only in SA,” explains Kambasha (Not his real name. The names of all Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders quoted in this report have been changed as sources requested anonymity because of fear of retribution.)

“I am earning a living through driving trucks and so if I don’t renew my licence, my family will suffer a lot,” Kambasha says.

His situation is similar to that of more than 150,000 ZEP holders in South Africa following a directive by the Department of Home Affairs in November 2021 for the cancellation of the permits.

They have a limited number of alternatives: returning to an unfamiliar country; remaining as undocumented migrants; relocating to developed countries overseas; or transitioning to mainstream permits.

While relocating overseas requires professional qualifications, skills and experience, transitioning to mainstream permits is “in the vast majority of cases, an almost impossible requirement,” according to the Helen Suzman Foundation.

‘Unjustified limitation of rights’

The permit holders were afforded a 12-month reprieve on 28 June when a full bench of the Pretoria High Court found that the cancellation is unlawful, unconstitutional and irrational, specifically labelling it an “unjustified limitation of rights”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Unjustified limitation of rights’ — court rules Zimbabwean Exemption Permits cancellation unconstitutional

Despite the reprieve, ZEP holders hold a range of negative sentiments about their futures.

“The court ruling gave some relief from stress, but it was short-lived because the Minister [of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi] is appealing the judgment. Apprehension is now gripping upon us once again,” another ZEP holder, Clement Mhlanga, says.

Chipo Ndebele adds: “Panicked and unbalanced, it has destroyed the fabric of assumed stability. No peace of mind, anxiety and a glimpse of a bleak future.”

In particular, ZEP holders are uncertain about their homes, children’s schooling, businesses, gaining (new) employment and dismissal from current employment as well as access to services such as banking, unemployment insurance, pension and provident fund payments, social services and medical care.

That is in addition to the mistreatment by some South Africans, the requirements and cost of the waiver for mainstream permits, concern about their mental health, as well as the burden of applying for licences to be renewed and new accreditations.

‘We’re held accountable for everything that goes wrong’

Nyasha Moyo says: “In the community, we are at risk of being held accountable for any problem like load shedding and water shortage because they blame us for not being documented and overcrowding their community. We are experiencing theft and robbery daily. As I write to you, my properties were taken at gunpoint, even my food.”

Apart from the mistreatment by some community members, “I feel as a person without a future and that of my children is doomed,” says Charlotte Sibanda, a parent of three children of school-going age.

“I feel hopeless as I don’t have hope in life in Zimbabwe having left the country 15 years ago for SA, and now faced with a dark uncertainty of life in South Africa. It adds more depression,” she says.

For others, the distress is triggered by the need to sustain their physical health and that of their family.

Anesu Mpofu says: “I’m the only one working in my family; my mother and I are on chronic medications. As for my mother, I must buy her meds here [in SA] because in Zimbabwe, we can only find them at very expensive prices, and I can’t afford them. If I go back to Zimbabwe, it means my mother and I are going to die.”

Another permit holder, Tendai Ngwenya, notes: “Being a small business owner, I worry for my family as well as the locals I employ; for if I am not able to secure a permit, my business will be affected, including their families and mine.”

He continues: “My clients and suppliers will be greatly affected due to the relationships that we have built over the years, not to mention the loans and credits from home loans to credit cards to even life cover and various insurance policies we took. We are deeply affected and constantly traumatised by this current situation.” DM

For any ZEP holder and family seeking counselling, you can contact LifeLine through WhatsApp on +27 65 989 9238. You can also visit and call +27 86 132 2322 for more information.


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