South African bureaucracy - and the vast numbers of Zimbabweans applying for a special permit to remain in the country - could delay the deportation of citizens from the neighbouring state for months.
Home Affairs Minister Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma reportedly told a meeting with the Zimbabwean Stakeholder Forum on 14 December in Pretoria that "They [Home Affairs] have close on 40,000 applications still outstanding as we speak. So, clearly, they will not be able to finish that backlog before the end of the month."
The deportation of undocumented Zimbabwean nationals would only begin once all applications were processed, the minister said.
The Zimbabwean Dispensation Process (ZDP) aims to establish the number of Zimbabweans residing in the country and regularize their residence. Home Affairs said there would be no extension of the 31 December 2010 deadline for applying, but even incomplete applications would be accepted for completion at a later date.
Low skilled workers - such as gardeners and domestic workers - are also eligible for the permit, which would be valid for up to four years, depending on the validity of the passport. Migration analysts believe it unlikely that such "a window of opportunity" to formalize their status would open again, as South African immigration laws regarding low-skilled migrants are fairly rigid, and the country suffers high unemployment levels.
Valid travel documents were required to obtain a permit, but "blockages" were making it difficult. The Zimbabwean authorities in Zimbabwe were issuing about 500 passports a day, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, head of the refugee and migrant programme at Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), told IRIN, but at the end of November 2010 about 30,000 applications were outstanding.
Migration analysts told IRIN the permit system was likely to benefit Zimbabweans in formal employment, and those who were students or business owners, rather than poor and vulnerable migrants.
Braam Hanekom, of People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), a Cape Town-based NGO, told IRIN that in the city's municipality of Bellville about 100 Zimbabweans a day had been applying for the travel documents from Zimbabwe's mission there since October 2010, but the Zimbabwean authorities in Cape Town had yet to issue a single passport. He estimated that so far about 5,000 people were waiting for their passports in the Western Cape province.
Home affairs said a Zimbabwean passport application receipt would be sufficient for an applicant to apply for the permit, or receipts for other documents required to apply for a passport, such as birth certificates.
Zimbabwe has endured a decade of recession, hyperinflation and political violence since 2000, and its nationals have been drawn to neighbouring South Africa, the continent's economic power house, in search of work and other opportunities.
End of deportation moratorium
In September 2010 South Africa announced an end to the moratorium on deporting Zimbabweans, and said it would resume the policy of ejecting undocumented migrants from that country on 1 January 2011, in line with South Africa’s policy of deporting all undocumented foreign nationals.
|The [Home Affairs] department made many confident announcements regarding this project, and now ask for them to be kind enough to extend the deadline|
About 200,000 Zimbabweans were deported in the year to the April 2009 moratorium, which was implemented in the aftermath of the 2008 xenophobic violence that killed more than 60 people - about a third of whom were South African nationals - and displaced about 100,000 others.
The Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg estimated that between 1 million and 1.5 million Zimbabweans were living in South Africa, but other estimates have put the number higher.
Ramjathan-Keogh commended home affairs for making "very serious efforts" to accommodate applicants - offices stay open until 10 p.m. and will only be closed on 25 and 26 December - "but the deadline is very tight" and the organization did not understand why it could not be extended.
She told IRIN that about 30,000 permits had been processed by Home Affairs from September to the end of November 2010, but there could be anything from 100,000 to 300,000 applications in the next three weeks if "the conservative estimate of 1.5 million Zimbabweans is taken into account."
"We note DHA's [Department of Home Affairs] commitment that they will not start deportations immediately after the deadline, but ask for DHA to issue instructions to SAPS [South African Police Services] in this regard to prevent unlawful arrests and deportations from occurring [from 1 January 2011]," Ramjathan-Keogh said in statement.
She said the impact of the minister's comments and the time taken to process all the applications could result in deportations of undocumented Zimbabwean nationals being delayed for as long as 12 months.
PASSOP said in a statement that Home Affairs had "failed to fully inform the public of the details of the new visa, as they have not placed any single advert in any daily newspaper".
The organization said a call centre set up for the purpose had failed to respond to thousands of enquiries or answer the phone, putting the onus on civil society and the media to inform applicants about the process.
"We are greatly disappointed, as the department made many confident announcements regarding this project, and now ask for them to be kind enough to extend the deadline," PASSOP said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions