Registrar-General (RG) Tobaiwa Mudede on Monday said he was unlikely to meet the December 31 deadline to issue identity and travel documents to Zimbabweans living illegally in South Africa leaving up to 1 million people at the risk of deportation.
Mudede told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs that about 1,5 million Zimbabweans were living illegally in South Africa, although many others were there legally.
The South African government recently ended a special dispensation allowing Zimbabweans to stay in that country without documentation and urged all illegal residents to acquire valid identity documents and then apply for permits to avoid being deported.
South Africa announced that those who failed to acquire education, employment or business permits before December 31, would be deported.
Mudede said the South Africans appeared determined on the deportations, but hinted it would be impossible for his office to issue documents to everyone.
“It’s a question which we have asked (whether it would be possible to give documents to everyone),” Mudede said. “It’s a question everyone is asking . . . but the South Africans appear serious on the deadline. They are saying everyone who is not properly registered will be sent back home after December 31,” said Mudede responding to a question from Luveve MP Reggie Moyo, who had asked if the RG’s officials would be able to meet the deadline.
Mudede said from September to date, only 22 000 passports had been issued.
Staff at the three document application centres in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Limpopo province were failing to cope with the influx of people seeking identity documents, he said.
“We have sent 22 000 passports (to South Africa) so far and scanned 10 000,” he said.
“Most are now coming back to get the passports here to beat the deadline. There are long queues at the centres in South Africa because the deadline is fast approaching and also because people are seeing that the passports are coming.”
The RG’s Office had sent only 41 officials to deal with the applications in South Africa despite the huge demand from Zimbabweans living in that country.
At the beginning of the month, Gabriel Shumba, the executive director of Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, a Pretoria-based group that deals with immigrant rights issues, said the authorities were failing to cope with the pressure from passport seekers. He said the December 31 deadline was not feasible and called for an extension.
Meanwhile, Mudede heaped praise on his staff describing them as hard-working persons who even worked outside normal working hours.
Staff at the RG’s offices have often been associated with corruption, but Mudede said that was occurring outside his offices and being engineered by people who had nothing to do with his office.
He said although security agents had arrested several people for corruption, he had no authority over what happened outside his offices.
“They work so hard and you would feel pity for them,” he said. “Some of them are not even going for lunch. During emergencies we call them in at night and they do their work. They are very hard- working.”