SA position on Zim exemption permit holders will trigger humanitarian crisis

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BY Rebone Tau
THE South African government recently made a decision not to extend the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) regime that expired on December 31, 2021, opting instead to let the programme lapse.

This consequential decision has left Zimbabweans in limbo and they are now faced with the tough choice of living in South Africa without official recognition, or going back home to a turbulent political scene.

Zimbabwe is preparing for by-elections which will take place on March 26, 2022.

After the struggle for the soul of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) culminated in a bruising court battle, the charismatic Nelson Chamisa and close ally Tendai Biti have formed a new party called Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

The mammoth crowd that turned out for the party’s launch sent shock waves through the ranks of Zanu PF, which unleashed a round of violent rhetoric and physical attacks against the new kid on the block in Kwekwe.

One CCC supporter was killed in the violence.

It is hard to see how Zimbabwe gets out of its political quagmire.

The Zanu PF elite does not really care about democratic processes governing changes of power, which means that Zimbabwe is a de facto dictatorship.

If the CCC gets a strong showing in the next elections, it would mean more violence and an exodus of citizens to neighbouring countries.

Zimbabwe remains a nation of interest for both the ANC and the South African government, and at the time that an ANC delegation controversially visited that country on a military plane in 2020, there were a lot of reports coming out of Zimbabwe that there were human rights violations taking place there.

While this was not surprising, it was disappointing because President Emmerson “The Crocodile” Mnangagwa had been expected to reduce the violence after coming to power in a popular coup (though some might disagree that it was coup).

That the violence has continued unabated suggests that Zimbabweans abroad do not want to relocate to their home country in significant numbers.

Why would anybody want to leave a relatively stable country in the neighbourhood to move to Zimbabwe and be constantly harassed by those who support “The Crocodile”.

Although the South African government has taken a decision not to extend ZEPs that allowed Zimbabweans in South Africa more time to get their papers in order, they should continue monitoring developments in Zimbabwe.

South Africa is still a regional power with a bit of leverage over its neighbours.

Zimbabwe is going to the polls in 2023.

We know that previously Zimbabwe was on the agenda at Sadc, in the era of the former president Thabo Mkebi, and South Africa was asked to mediate in the political standoff across the border. Mbeki championed a “quiet diplomacy” approach.

This process led to the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in 2008.

The mistake MDC made at the time was not to push for the implementation of all the reforms that the parties had agreed to in the GPA.

The mediation process continued under former president Jacob Zuma. (Some will remember that this was when the late power-hungry Robert Mugabe referred to minister Lindiwe Zulu as an “idiotic street woman”.)

After post-election violence in 2018, the Zimbabwean government commissioned the Motlanthe Commission report.

We seem to have forgotten about it.

Going into next elections, is there any chance that the Zimbabwean government has looked at the recommendations of the report to avoid a repeat of the violence?

Or are such documents just the veneer the government needs to show the world that it is democratic?

Zanu PF continues to lash out at the ANC but is never willing to take responsibility for the situation in the country.

The ANC needs to stand its ground moving forward and face Zanu PF head-on.

It is time now for the South African government and the ANC to have an honest and frank discussion with Zanu PF, especially after the Cabinet decision on the status of Zimbabwe citizens in South Africa.

The Zimbabweans, who are in South Africa are not there because they want to be there. Material conditions have forced them to leave their country.

There is a lot that remains troubling.

Since the formation of the CCC party, there are already rumours flying that the putative successor to Mnangagwa, Constantino Chiwenga, is plotting violence against the newcomers.

The South African government needs to understand that changing the permits for Zimbabweans will not change the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe.

It will not improve the lot of ordinary Zimbabweans in any significant way.

Instead, it will lead to another humanitarian and migrant crisis.

I do not think that the South African government did a proper analysis of what is really happening in Zimbabwe before making this decision.

Decision-makers at government level must avoid the temptation of populist politics.

Consequential decisions like terminating the ZEP must be based on clear data and policies.

  • This article first appeared in the Daily Maverick
  • Rebone Tau is a political analyst and author of ‘The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL’