Zimbabwean Extension Permit holders hastily relocate to avoid domino effects of permit cancellation
One permit holder says he and his family were ‘just lucky’ to be able to move abroad after noticing space in SA for permit holders was ‘getting squeezed’.
Nelson Ndlovu’s wife migrated a year ago to a developed country overseas after obtaining a critical visitor visa to be employed as a support worker. The entire family then joined her more than three months ago, Ndlovu as her spouse and their children as dependants.
“Two of my children and a grandchild were born in South Africa, but I had to uproot everyone and everything. My whole life was supposed to be put in two 22kg bags because I could only carry those on to the plane,” explains Ndlovu, whose name has been changed after he requested anonymity because of fears of retribution.
“I had to sell most things, including the car, and some of the things I had to just give away.”
In light of the first directive by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) in November 2021 to cancel the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), some permit holders sought opportunities that would give them residency in other countries.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Aaron Motsoaledi cries foul over Zimbabwean exemption permit ruling, applies for leave to appeal
Speaking to Daily Maverick over the phone, Ndlovu says they were “just lucky”. They had created profiles on job search platforms such as Indeed when they noticed that “the space was getting squeezed” – becoming “non-existent” – for ZEP permit holders in South Africa.
“We saw that if the issue is affecting us [the parents who are business owners], it definitely will affect our children,” he says.
“There are a lot of ZEP holders, even before this issue of the non-renewal of the permit, who lost their positions such as maths and science teachers in government schools … They were replaced by South Africans … just discarded … thrown away. They were just taken off; unions were victimising them.”
Ndlovu is currently going through what he refers to as a “reboot” as he seeks employment in line with his skill set, experience and previous income. His age may complicate his prospects for employment as the 50-year-old is approaching retirement. It is not the case for his children, who are in their 20s and have the chance of finding a bigger range of employment abroad.
The whole family currently possess residency visas affording them permanent stay and the opportunity of becoming permanent residents in two years and citizens at the end of three years.
“The migration process is straightforward; it is progressive,” Ndlovu says.
His wife applied for a residency visa within a month of her arrival.
Before the ZEP cancellation directive and the Ndlovus’ relocation overseas, they operated a well-established, lucrative business running corporate training programmes, leveraging their teaching skills and Bachelor of Education qualifications. He had majored in educational planning and administration as well as policy studies.
They focused on programmes such as occupational health and safety for mines, from Rustenburg to Secunda, and other companies, later offering personal finance services. As a result of the uncertainty created by the ZEP cancellation, the business was closed.
Speaking to GroundUp in 2019, Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi said: “We can’t stop those special permits [for Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Angolans] if the problems that led to those special permits are not yet resolved.”
He added: “Unfortunately the Zimbabwean permit was for four years and the situation never became normal in those four years. We will renew, but we can’t automatically as the department. We have got to discuss [it] with the Cabinet.”
These statements are further in line with a statement from a presentation to the Home Affairs Committee by the minister and DHA director-general Livhuwani Makhode on 13 September 2022: “The exemptions were a temporary measure, pending improvement of the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe.”
Considering the current political and economic context in Zimbabwe and the above statements, among other aspects, the cancellation of the ZEP appears inconsistent with the minister’s previous statements.
In particular, the World Bank notes in its updates on 30 March 2023 that Zimbabwe has a “high rate of poverty and vulnerability”, while the Human Rights Watch reports that Zimbabwe still experiences worsening situations in relation to accountability for abuses, rights to food, water and sanitation, forced evictions, and children’s rights as of 2022.
ZEP holders were afforded a 12-month reprieve on 28 June when a full bench of the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria found that the cancellation was unlawful, unconstitutional and irrational, labelling it an “unjustified limitation of rights”. DM
ZEP holders needing counselling can contact LifeLine through WhatsApp on +27 65 989 9238. You can also visit lifelinesa.co.za or call +27 86 132 2322 for more information.