Uncertain future for undocumented Zimbabweans in SA

The future of Zimbabweans without legal documentation in South Africa is uncertain, after a brief window to regularise their stay in the country slammed shut last week.

The South African government has said more than 232,000 Zimbabweans applied to legalise their stay in the country before the December 31st deadline passed last Friday. This means that an estimated million Zim nationals who live in South Africa have missed this opportunity to apply for relevant work or study permits.

The application process was announced in September last year after the government ended its special amnesty for undocumented Zim nationals living in the country illegally. The documentation deadline sparked a frenzied rush for applications which were dependent on proving Zimbabwean nationality. But with the Zimbabwean official unable to meet the huge demand for passports, the process quickly became marred by confusion.

This confusion has now continued passed the deadline, with Zim nationals and civil society unclear over what happens next. South African Home Affairs spokespeople have insisted window for application is closed, and that it wont extend the process.

Those who have not applied deliberately took the decision not to regularise their status and will have to bear the consequences, Ronnie Mamoepa, a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs, said on Monday. We must now adjudicate the applications.

Braam Hanekom from the Western Cape based refugee rights group PASSOP told SW Radio Africa on Monday that the adjudication process could take several months, if not longer. He added that the South African authorities have said it will not resume deportations until the process has been finalised, which he said was positive.

There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done now to process the applications that have been made, Hanekom said. He added: Our focus now is to assist the people who didnt get their applications in, and keep communication with the government about what happens next.

Hanekom explained that people without documents are still entitled to apply for asylum or refugee status. But the backlog of asylum applications which many believed sparked the South African authorities decision to document Zimbabweans, means many people might be at risk of deportation in the future.

Lawyers for Human Rights meanwhile has questioned the real motives behind the documentation process. According to Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, head of Lawyers for Human Rights Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme, the inability of the Zimbabwe Documentation process to reach significant numbers of Zimbabweans means that these persons will be obliged to revert to whatever means is available for them to document themselves even if these are not entirely legal means. Surely this could never have been the intention behind the regularisation process?

Ramjathan-Keogh continued: Home Affairs has informed us that while applications are being processed there will be no deportations however these persons will be vulnerable to arrest and deportation in the near future.

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