Further relief for Zimbabweans with exemption permits in SA after High Court judgement

A pickup truck moves off after loading unemployed builders and painters from South Africa and Zimbabwe from a roadside for work in Cape Town, South Africa. File photo: EPA

A pickup truck moves off after loading unemployed builders and painters from South Africa and Zimbabwe from a roadside for work in Cape Town, South Africa. File photo: EPA

Published Jun 29, 2023


More than 178 000 Zimbabweans settled in South Africa under the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits received a reprieve yesterday when the High Court ruled the decision to terminate the permits – whose validity had subsequently been extended to the end of December this year – as unlawful, brightening income prospects for friends and relatives back home.

Expat Zimbabweans settled in South Africa make up a big economic support base for crisis weary relatives and friends back home. Zimbabwe’s economy has made a tail spin back into hyper-inflation, worsened by a runaway exchange rate, rampaging prices and worsening unemployment.

“We were facing uncertainty because we all thought that after the December expiry ZEP would not be extended. Now people have time to make a calculated determination; either trying to get proper work visas or prepare to go back home without being rushed,” said one expat Zimbabwean settled in Pretoria.

Economic difficulties over the past 20 years had driven many Zimbabweans out of the country in search of better economic prospects, with most of them settling in South Africa, others in Botswana, and others forced to seek opportunities as far afield as the UK.

Zimbabwe is gearing for elections on August 23 in a poll that will likely be determined along economic lines. President Emmerson Mnangagwa will square-off with main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa who accuses the Zimbabwean leader of driving down the economy since taking over from the late former leader, Robert Mugabe, after a coup in 2017.

Most Zimbabweans settled in South Africa are, however, barred from voting in the upcoming election as diaspora vote is outlawed. All in all, there are nearly 1 million Zimbabweans settled outside the country.

While some have been driven out of Zimbabwe owing to economic difficulties, others ran away from political persecution and have been pivotal in sending remittances back home.

The South African High Court ruled on Wednesday that the Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision to terminate the ZEP dispensation that allowed Zimbabweans to stay in South Africa without substantive permits as unlawful.

A ZEP holder, had “by way of illustration, sent an email to the designated address imploring the Minister to ‘Please consider giving us another four years. We have nowhere to stay in Zim and no work,” reads part of the High Court judgement.

It further said a due procedure and process in the determination of Motsoaledi cancelling the ZEPs would further require “a careful assessment of the current conditions in Zimbabwe”.

The Helen Suzman Foundation which had challenged the decision by Motsoaledi in the High Court, said the court’s decision remitted back to the minister for fresh decision to allow for a “fair process compliant with the requirements of administrative” justice.

Immigration specialists at Webber Wentzel said the “ZEP holders and their employers have another short reprieve in which to decide” on their next course of action.

They said ZEP holders might apply for other visas, such as those available to foreign nationals other than those from Zimbabwe, lodge applications such as waiver applications or elect to leave South Africa on a voluntary and lawful basis.