Cape Town 29-05-2014 Caption: "Passop's Bernard Toyambi goes through the papers of a several Zimbabweans struggling to get hold of permits they applied for nearly four years ago. With these special dispensation permits set to expire at the end of the year, there are concerns that Zimbabweans will have to return home to reapply."picture and story Kristen van Schie

Cape Town - At the end of this year, special permits granted to Zimbabweans living in South Africa will start to expire.

Which is a problem for Alice, seeing as she’s still waiting on hers, four years after originally applying.

She was one of tens of thousands who queued for four-year study, work and business permits when the home affairs department introduced a special dispensation programme for Zimbabweans in 2010, allowing them to become regularised under relaxed conditions.

And while more than 250 000 Zimbabweans living here were successfully regularised in that process – which ran from September 2010 to July 2011 – Alice was not among them.

“They said they couldn’t verify my employment,” she said. “It’s just declined and declined and declined.”

Alice’s is one of a stack of cases being handled by People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), a Wynberg NGO focused on protecting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants.

Bernard Toyambi, head of Passop’s paralegal office, thumbed through them: the man paralysed in a car accident, whose claims cannot be processed by the health department until the permit he applied for years ago is issued; the many others whose permits were never transferred after their passports expired; those rejected by banks or hospitals or schools, which would not accept Home Affairs’ receipts in lieu of actual permits.

The upcoming expiry of those who did receive their permits presents a whole new challenge. Little information has been released on what the process will entail, and the department’s spokespeople have been reluctant to comment on the issue before the details have been ironed out.

The most information gleaned so far came out of a press briefing in March, when deputy minister Fatima Chohan said Zimbabweans who did have permits would be able to reapply “in their country of origin”.

It was a worrying statement, said David Cote of Lawyers for Human Rights.

“There is a still a backlog in the adjudication of permit applications,” he said.

“We’re concerned that people will leave the country to reapply – leave their activities, work, studies, business – and then wait months for their permits before they can return to South Africa.”

With all the permits set to expire at approximately the same time, Passop said there was a danger of creating a bottleneck by sending more than 200 000 Zimbabweans home to reapply for their permits.

“We need government to clarify that decision,” said Toyambi.

The department issued a fresh statement on the issue last week stating it

is not South Africa’s intention to reverse the benefits of the dispensation.

Alice is still worried. “I’m the breadwinner. What will happen to my family if I leave?”

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Weekend Argus