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With just 12 days to go desperate Zimbabweans are battling to get their papers in order ahead of the December 31 deadline, or face deportation
Tensions are rising in queues at Home Affairs, and on Friday assault charges were laid against a security guard who allegedly manhandled refugee activist Braam Hanekom and Zimbabweans waiting in a chaotic queue outside the Bellville Home Affairs offices.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, head of the refugee and migrants rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, said they doubted that all the hundreds of thousands of applicants could be processed in time.
“We remain concerned that the extremely short timeframes for such a large project may be used as a smokescreen for starting up large-scale deportations again.”
She was also concerned that Home Affairs had been late in telling immigrants with pending applications not to leave the country. She said hundreds had already left to be in Zimbabwe for Christmas.
Hanekom, founder of People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty, was at the Bellville offices speaking to Zimbabweans in the queues on Friday when a security guard told him not to speak to them.
“I told him I was in a public space and that I had a right to talk to them. He grabbed me and pushed me.”
Others in the queue complained of guards wanting bribes.
Hanekom said: “It was absolute chaos and there were not enough officials to deal with the large number of people… it will lead to much frustration and confusion.”
One Zimbabwean, who did not want to be named because he feared being victimised, said he was carrying his seven-month-old son when the same security guard shouted and started pushing him.
“I nearly fell. But he stopped when people shouted at him to leave me alone. Now I’m too scared to apply for my permit.”
Hanekom and the Zimbabwean laid charges of assault at Bellville police station.
The security company’s line manager, James Ketelo, said disciplinary action could be taken.
Associated Press says there are as many as 3 million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa after fleeing the crisis in their homeland. SA authorities, who had allowed many to stay without passports or papers, announced a crackdown in September, saying that those who did not apply for legal status before December 31 would have to go home.
This has led to huge crowds at immigration offices across South Africa, with some Zimbabweans lining up for several days to apply for work or study permits.
Human rights groups complained that four months was insufficient to process the applicants.
Zimbabweans with passports merely need to apply to Home Affairs for a work permit by December 31. But those without passports first need to obtain proof that they applied. The applications cost R750.
Zimbabwean consular officials have set up desks at the Bellville Home Affairs offices for people to apply for Zimbabwean passports. Once they have a receipt proving they have applied, they can apply to South Africa for a work permit.
The asylum seekers’ document that many have is no longer valid.
The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum recently met Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to raise concerns about the logjams in the Zimbabwe Documentation Project (ZDP).
The registration process started months ago but there have been numerous delays. The forum’s executive director, Gabriel Shumba, said Home Affairs had received 116 000 applications so far, of which 10 000 were rejected, while 27 000 were approved. At least 79 000 people were still waiting.
Shumba said: “This deadline is not realistic but Home Affairs remain adamant about the December 31 deadline. However, people have been having serious problems with both the Zimbabwean Consulate and Home Affairs. There is tension in Zimbabwe ahead of the elections next year, and it would be a human rights tragedy to send people home where they will be easy targets to Zanu-PF intelligence. There is a perception that those living here are MDC supporters. It’s really scary.” - Sunday Argus