Thousands of holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) are living in uncertainty because the South African government has not yet indicated whether it will renew their permits. About 180,000 Zimbabweans hold ZEPs. The four-year permit expires on 31 December 2021.
Some Zimbabweans said their banks had already warned them to renew their permits or face closure of their accounts in December.
The permits were first issued in 2010 under the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (ZDP). The programme was renewed in 2014 as the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) before the ZEP was introduced in 2007.
A Zimbabwean, who we will only identify as Matthew, said he can’t make plans for the future. He is a supervisor at a restaurant and lives in New Brighton with his wife and two children. He has been living in South Africa for 20 years.
“I started with an asylum seeker permit before I got the ZDP, ZSP and the ZEP. I have lived in this country for the better part of my adult life. It will be heartbreaking if the government refuses to renew the permits.
“I have two bank accounts and insurance as well as burial policies. These will all go down the drain if the government refuses to extend the permits.”
He said he is established in the community and his children speak fluent Xhosa. “They identify themselves with local culture because they were born here,” he said.
Another ZEP holder said South Africa should grant citizenship to those who have lived legally in the country for five or more years.
“Some people have invested a lot in the country. Others have bought immovable property, which they will be forced to leave,” he said.
The South African government remains numb on the renewal process with some speculation that the ANC is waiting at least after the local government elections which are scheduled for 01 November 2021 to avoid voter backlash.