A South African lawyer representing holders of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) has argued that his clients will suffer irreparable harm should the Department of Home Affairs discontinue the scheme.
Advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi is representing 1 000 Zimbabwean nationals under the Zimbabwean Immigration Federation (ZIF) before a full bench in the Pretoria High Court.
ZIF is challenging the Department of Home Affairs’ decision to discontinue the ZEP programme.
Ngcukaitobi says the termination of the ZEP scheme will render the Zimbabwean nationals as illegal immigrants subject to arrest and forced deportation after the 30th of June this year. Said Ngcukaitobi:
The simple question is, on the first of July 2023, what will happen to the 178 000 recipients of the ZEP programme?
What will happen to them?
It is common cause on the facts that overnight, they will be rendered illegal immigrants in South Africa.
That would mean either they deport themselves voluntarily but the facts show that they are unable to return to Zimbabwe for the reasons that will be articulated.
What it would then mean is that they would be liable to forced deportation.
Alternatively, they would be liable to arrest because they would have violated the provisions of the Act.
Around 2008, thousands of Zimbabweans crossed the border into South Africa seeking better economic opportunities after the Zimbabwean economy had virtually collapsed.
South Africa then introduced the Dispensation of Zimbabwean Permit (DZP) to legalise Zimbabweans living and working in the country in 2009.
In 2014, the DZP was renamed the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP). The name changed again three years later to Zimbabwe Exemption Permit or ZEP.
In September 2022, South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs extended the permit which was due to expire on December 31, for a further six months to June 30, 2023.