afrol News, 14 January - Up to 1.3 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa risked deportation during the coming weeks, many because Harare authorities did not have the capacity to provide them with passports. Now, they are given a new five months to apply for a legal status.
South African authorities last year thought they had made the many Zimbabweans living illegally in their country a generous offer to legalise their stay. They were given until 31 December to present their papers at the Interior Ministry and apply to have their stay in South Africa regularised. However, a job or a study place would be necessary to get a residency permit.
But authorities had not taken into account that most Zimbabweans in South Africa did not even have a valid passport from their home country. In Zimbabwe, there was a stream of applicants, wanting a quick issuing of valid travel documentation. But Zimbabwe did not have the capacity to issue all the needed passport for its exiled citizens.
Opposition forces even claim Zimbabwe authorities had an interest in not issuing the needed passports, which also would give the exiled Zimbabweans a right to vote in the upcoming elections. It is widely assumed that almost all Zimbabweans living in South Africa are opposing the Robert Mugabe regime and would vote for the MDC opposition.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, it became clear that some 1.3 million of the estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans living illegally in the country had not wanted or not been able to apply for a legal residency. A massive deportation scheme would have to be organised. It was feared that large groups would go underground, and maybe even be forced to engage in criminal activities.
Yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma gave into the amounting pressure to give Zimbabweans more time to finalise their documentation. She extended the deadline by more than five months.
The decision came after a meeting between the Home Affairs Ministry and members of the Zimbabwean Stakeholder Forum and after discussions with the Zimbabwean government. The Ministry would now initiate "a sustained engagement with the Zimbabwean government to expedite the issuance of passports," it was stated.
The Ministry promised that no Zimbabweans would be arrested for deportation before 1 August. Zimbabweans wanting to apply to legalise their stay in South Africa were given until 30 June to apply and another 30 days to collect their permits from the Home Affairs Ministry.
This would however be the last deadline. "From August 2011 onwards, Zimbabweans, who are not in possession of the necessary documentation that regularises their stay in country, will be subject to our normal immigration laws," according to the Ministry's director of the Zimbabwean Documentation Process, Jacob Mamabolo.
He said that while 1 August was not a deportation date, the Ministry would continue to conduct their normal operations with law enforcement agencies to implement the Immigration Act. The Ministry had "a comprehensive plan in place" to ensure that the 30 June deadline is met, he added.
"This includes fast tracking the dispatch and adjudication of all outstanding applications, the fingerprinting of applicants, sustained engagement with the Zimbabwean government to fast track the issuance of passports to approved applicants and stakeholder engagements with other interested parties," Mr Mamabolo explained.
Minister Dlamini Zuma herself is expected to meet her Zimbabwean counterpart next week to discuss the issue. She urged that cooperation from the Zimbabwean government was "essential" if the deadline was to be met.
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