The South African government has given Zimbabwean immigrants, estimated at between 1,5 to three million by different oganisations, until year end to regularise their stay or face deportation.
Those with illegal documents have an amnesty, as long as they manage to obtain a Zimbabwean passport and register with South African authorities before 31 December.
Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), a Pretoria-based group that deals with immigrant rights issues, said yesterday the process has been marred by congestion, poor communication and neglect of illiterate Zimbabweans. ZEF met South African Home Affairs officials on Wednesday, the third time since the announcement of the new policy in September, to push for a review of the process.
Gabriel Shumba, the ZEF executive director, said Zimbabwean officials were also hampering the process for vulnerable groups such as informal traders by demanding letters of employment as a condition for issuing passports.
“There are a lot of challenges, including the fact that the Zimbabwe Consulate in Johannesburg cannot cope with the applications for passports and therefore people have to pay bribes to jump the queues,” said Shumba.
“More unconscionable and reprehensible is the fact that the Consulate has been asking some applicants for letters from employers before allowing them to apply for lost or new passports. ZEF believes that every Zimbabwean deserves a passport by virtue of nationality rather than employment status. We find this practice undesirable and appalling,” he said
Co-Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi, whose ministry has already stated that the new policy was by mutual consent, refused to directly respond to Shumba’s allegations.
“We are giving them the requisite documents, he said. “The process is going on now. Don’t focus on negative things.”
Outgoing Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Africa, Simon Khaya Moyo promised to issue passports to immigrants before the amnesty lapsed on December 31.
“In this spirit, the embassy urges all organisations, whether civil or political, to refrain from issuing statements that may not reflect the correct agreement between the two countries, which statements may lead to unnecessary confusion,” he said in a statement.
The South African government is set to resume deportations of illegal immigrants from January 1 after scrapping a moratorium on deportations of illegal Zimbabweans that has been in place since April last year.
South African Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced this week that 240 Home Affairs officials had been deployed to 46 regional offices across the country to facilitate the registration of illegal immigrants. Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs ministry has said it will dispatch passport officers to expedite the process.
South Africa hosts the largest number of exiled Zimbabweans who fled Harare’s decade-long economic and political turmoil that critics blame on President Robert Mugabe’s mismanagement of the economy and strong-arm tactics on dissenting voices.
Mugabe, on the other hand, blames Western-imposed sanctions for Zimbabwe’s fall from being one of Africa’s best performing economies to a regional bread basket.
Economists such as Kingdom Financial Holdings Ltd’s Witness Chinyama say Zimbabwe’s economy is still too small to absorb millions of unskilled returning Zimbabweans despite the relative stability brought by the formation of the coalition government.