SA court to decide ZEP holders’ fate this week

Court hammer

ZIMBABWE Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders in South Africa will this week learn of their fate when their case is heard by a full bench at Pretoria High Court starting today.

The full bench will hear the case until Friday.

The Helen Suzman Foundation approached the courts seeking to overturn South Africa’s Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision to terminate the permits.

If the minister’s decision is upheld, the permits will be terminated on June 30 this year.

The ZEPs are special permits issued in terms of South Africa’s Immigration Act that allows approximately 178 000 holders and their children temporary legal status to live, work and study in that country.

It is the third iteration of a permit that began back in 2009 as the Dispensation for Zimbabweans Project (DZP), which the South African government introduced to cope with an influx of undocumented Zimbabweans fleeing political violence and an economic crunch around 2008.

The DZP was later renamed the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) in 2014, which was in turn changed to ZEP in 2017.

Whether applying for the DZP, ZSP or the ZEP, applicants had to abandon their attempts to apply for asylum status, show that they had the financial means to support themselves in South Africa and that they had no criminal record.

“ZEP holders are a population of law-abiding and economically active foreign nationals who have built lives in South Africa over the last 13 years — after being forced to do so as a result of desperate conditions in Zimbabwe. Many ZEP holders have children who know no home but South Africa,” Helen Suzman Foundation said in a statement.

“Without the ZEP, its holders can only lawfully remain in South Africa if they are granted one of the Immigration Act’s mainstream visas. However, this is not a realistic option for most ZEP holders, given the legal and practical barriers that stand between them and a mainstream visa.”

The foundation said without a ZEP and given the practical and legal barriers to acquiring a mainstream visa, the South African government’s decision will leave most applicants with a difficult decision to make on June 30, which is to return to Zimbabwe or remain in South Africa as undocumented migrants.

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