South Africa to resume Zim deportations

passoppSouth Africas cabinet has announced that a moratorium on deportations of Zimbabwean nationals in the country will be reversed, prompting an angry response from rights groups.

In a post-cabinet announcement on Thursday, South African government spokesperson Themba Maseko said that deportations to Zimbabwe will commence after the 31st December this year, also adding that a special dispensation put in place for Zimbabweans will cease to operate. Under this dispensation Zimbabweans could enter South Africa and work for a total of three months before renewing the temporary permits.

The moratorium on deportations was introduced in April last year, a few months after the formation of the unity government in Zimbabwe. The special dispensation was also announced in an effort to control the number of Zimbabweans crossing illegally into South Africa, fleeing the humanitarian crisis and economic meltdown back home. It was hoped that a backlog of migrants seeking asylum status in South Africa would ease if Zimbabweans in the country were given special documents. It is estimated that there are up to four million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, but because of fears of deportations most did not apply for official documentation from Home Affairs.

It was widely believed that the moratorium on deportations was a temporary measure while the government worked at providing the special dispensation permits. But according to refugee rights group PASSOP, those permits were never issued, and most Zimbabweans in South Africa remain undocumented. PASSOPs Braam Hanekom told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that Zimbabweans are still unsuccessfully trying to apply for refugee status. He explained that while there are certain permits that migrants can apply for from the government, most Zimbabweans dont have the money for these applications.

The government claims that everyone can get a permit and that is unfounded, Hanekom said. This decision will just leave the impoverished and most vulnerable at most risk of being sent back unwillingly.

Hanekom also added that PASSOP expected the lifting of the moratorium on deportations only when conditions in Zimbabwe had improved, which he said there was still no evidence of. Gabriel Shumba from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum agreed, telling SW Radio Africa that the South African officials appear clueless to the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe.

This callous and arbitrary decision by the South African government speaks volumes about their role in mediation efforts of Zimbabwes political crisis, Shumba said, saying it was a serious indictment of South African President Jacob Zumas intentions as the regional mediator in Zimbabwe.

Shumba also warned that this ill-timed announcement has the potential of encouraging xenophobia. Fears of renewed xenophobic violence have been rife since the end of the football world cup in South Africa in July, because the job market has been steadily drying up. Skeptical observers have said the moratorium and special privileges afforded Zimbabwean migrants in 2009 was well timed, because of the need for cheap labour ahead of the football tournament. Shumba said that Zimbabweans were hoodwinked into believing that the South African government was making strides to protect their rights.

He said the announcement on Thursday is devastating and a shock to all those who believed there was goodwill from South African officials.

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