Zimbabwe and South Africa will this week hold an urgent meeting to discuss the impending deportation of thousands of Zimbabweans following the scrapping of a special dispensation last week, it has been learnt.
The South African cabinet last week approved a proposal to scrap a special dispensation for Zimbabweans and gave the nod to resume deportations of people staying illegally with effect from the end of December.
South Africa Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa Sunday confirmed the upcoming meeting and said details of the meeting with representatives of Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa would be released in due course.
“The meeting will be held this week. Since the announcement by the cabinet to document Zimbabweans living in South Africa, there had been a great deal of distortion and misinformation, particularly from NGOs and (so-called) immigration experts, aimed at sowing confusion among Zimbabweans in the country,” he said.
Mamoepa said the suggestion that Zimbabweans would have to return en masse to Zimbabwe to acquire the documents was “far from the truth”.
He said there was an agreement between Pretoria and Harare that Zimbabweans need to approach the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria or consulates in Johannesburg and Cape Town which will profile their details to enable them to be documented in South Africa.
The special dispensation implemented in April last year, allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa the right to live, work, attend education facilities and access basic health care for a period of six months.
The special dispensation would come to an end on December 31.
NGOs advocating for refugees said the decision to withdraw the special dispensation would result in mass deportation for those who do not have the means to gain legal permit.
Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) has accused the South African government of using Zimbabweans as cheap labour before the 2010 soccer World Cup only to dump them now that the global event has come and gone.
ZEF executive director Gabriel Shumba described the decision as “callous, arbitrary and in violation of the Bilateral Agreement between South Africa and Zimbabwe that was announced with so much pomp and fanfare.”
“We could be excused to think that the so-called deal was a scheme designed to hoodwink us as to the real purpose of it: to obtain cheap labour from Zimbabwe before the World Cup.”
Shumba said more poignant was the fact that the resumption of deportations was announced before any adequate measures were put in place to ensure that the asylum seeking process had been made more accessible, and before the special permit had been put in place.
He said this could only mean that corrupt police and immigration officials would be back in business.
Maseko said the South African government was aware that some Zimbabweans had illegally obtained South African identity documents, but that they would not be prosecuted provided they handed them in.
“There will also be an amnesty for Zimbabweans who may have obtained South African identification documents fraudulently, on condition that such documents are returned to the Department of Home Affairs with immediate effect.
“Those who return the illegal documents will be issued with the relevant permits,” said Maseko.
Shumba, however, condemned the announcement as “ill-timed because of its implications for xenophobia”.
“ZEF believes that the withdrawal of the special dispensation for Zimbabweans should have been taken after consultation with the Zimbabwean government as well as civil society in and outside Zimbabwe.”
Shumba said the unilateral announcement undermined the goodwill that had developed between civil society and other arms of government.