The extension of the validity of Zimbabwean exemption permits by a further six months will enable them settled in South Africa to apply for substantive work visas and also help avoid bureaucratic and legal chaos for Pretoria.
Dr Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics, said, “The permit extension saves chaos in Zimbabwe which is going to the polls to choose a new administration in August. Zimbabwe is also tipping deeper into economic chaos, with prices skyrocketing, and its local unit of exchange free-falling after the country’s reserve bank adopted a ‘market determined’ exchange rate regime this week.
“The permit extension means no huge influx of returnees before the election. An extra six months, ie until the end of 2023, basically to avoid bureaucratic and legal chaos. But that won’t be gone by December,” he said.
There are about 773 000 Zimbabweans settled in South Africa who are in search of better employment prospects, according to 2022 census data from ZimStats. There are about 178 000 Zimbabwean exemption permit holders.
Expat Zimbabweans have been pivotal in supporting family and friends back home at a time of economic upheaval.
“It’s a big reprieve and a relief for everyone; at least we can be settled legally for now and plan on coming back home. Many of us were facing an uncertain future because we have no means to restart life back home where things are just worsening,” one Zimbabwean exemption permit holder told Business Report yesterday.
There were fears that the expiry of the exemption permits at the end of this month would result in a large influx of arrivals back in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe government spokesperson, Nick Mangwana, said the extension of the exemption permits had been undertaken “in order to allow the holders to apply for one or other visas and waivers” to remain in South Africa.
“The minister of Home Affairs has extended the validity of the Zimbabwean exemption permits for another six months, until December 31, 2023,” said the National Employers Association of South Africa (Neasa) in a statement yesterday.
Under the extension, no holder of a valid Zimbabwe exemption permit “may be arrested, ordered to depart the country or be detained for deportation for any reason related to them not having a valid” permit to stay in South Africa.
According to Neasa, foreign nationals “enjoy the protection of South African labour legislation and the Constitution”, and should be afforded the same rights.
The Zimbabwe community in South Africa lobby group wants holders of Zimbabwe exemption permits to use the six-month extension to regularise their stay across the Limpopo by securing work permits. Others are, however, still planning on coming back to Zimbabwe as they are pessimistic of securing permits.
The 2022 Zimbabwe census found that up to 84% of Zimbabweans who have left their country “emigrated for employment reasons”, while 9% and 5% “emigrated for family reasons and study/education”, respectively.
With unemployment estimated at more than 80%, Zimbabwe’s diaspora has been a major source of income and support for families, with remittances topping $1.6 billion (R30.1 bn) in the past year. The World Bank estimates that remittance flows to Zimbabwe will top $2bn this year against $1.4bn in 2021, and $1bn in 2020.