A case for Zimbabweans resident in South Africa

In 2009, the South African government issued special permits to Zimbabwe nationals resident in that country.

Ngqabutho Mabhena

This was part of the contribution that South Africa was making in helping Zimbabwe resolve its political and economic situation.

A number of these Zimbabweans were either holders of asylum documents, undocumented or holders of South African IDs obtained illegally. The anticipation was that after four years, Zimbabweans would have resolved their political and economic crisis.

This would have seen the majority of Zimbabweans crossing back home as a result of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and economic recovery without asking South Africa to renew their permits.

It should be recalled that when these special permits were issued, South Africa was the Sadc facilitator in resolving mainly the political stalemate in Zimbabwe.

Since then Zimbabwe has had a new constitution and general elections last year that African observer teams pronounced as free and credible though the opposition says the elections were rigged, again.

The outcome of the July 31, 2013 elections did not facilitate the relocation of Zimbabweans in the diaspora back to Zimbabwe. Instead, we have seen young people crossing to South Africa for economic reasons.

Once again, Zimbabweans are seeking to stay in South Africa, hence their request to have their permits extended.

Notwithstanding the fact that South Africa already has its challenges, we appreciate their role in accommodating Zimbabweans by issuing them with legal documents such as asylum documents, special permits and other legal documents for them to remain in South Africa.

Zimbabweans have been part of the emigration cycle in South Africa for close to a century.

In fact, other than the cheap labour that Northern and Southern Rhodesia provided for South African mines, the Pioneer Column, which colonised Zimbabwe in 1890, actually originated from South Africa which shows close historical links between the two countries.

Moreover, Zimbabwe was a key component of the Frontline States that played a critical role in the struggle against apartheid.

While we appreciate that 50%-60% of the local youth are unemployed in South Africa, there is reason to believe that its rate of industrial growth is rapid enough to absorb additional skilled and unskilled labour.

It is common knowledge that Zimbabwe’s economy is not generating enough jobs since it is operating at 36% capacity. Public expenditure on infrastructure is thwarted by unavailability of sufficient revenue.

The agriculture sector has been decimated because agro-finance is negatively affected by Zimbabwe’s overall debt overhang. Efforts to attract budgetary support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank similarly suffer from this US$10-billion debt.

Therefore, it makes sense that Zimbabweans look to South Africa as their closest source of livelihood.

The ruling Zanu PF party is faced with serious challenges in fulfilling its electoral promises. One of these — to create two million jobs — is nowhere near realisation given that almost 100 companies are closing every month. A simple reference case is that of NewZim Steel, the former Zisco steel company that employed more than 5 000 people, but is now lying idle. Hwange coalmine required political intervention to save 1 400 jobs.

The railway system has collapsed, thus rendering thousands of workers jobless.

Promises that the government’s indigenisation policy would “unlock” trillions of dollars in mining resources have again come to naught. The ZimAsset policy blue print requires US$27 billion.

In addition, the fact that both IMF and the European Investment Bank have held talks with Zimbabwe does not suggest a financial agreement. There was also hope that post-electoral diaspora enthusiasm would trigger billion-dollar remittances to fuel domestic liquidity — it yielded nothing.

The perception that China’s investments in Zimbabwe will trigger growth is baseless. In Zambia, Angola, Kenya and South Africa, China’s FDI is configured in billions while in Zimbabwe, we still talk of millions.

Therefore, South African immigration authorities’ argument why Zimbabweans should be deported cannot be based on this “illusion of investment”.

China’s interests in Zimbabwe’s diamond mines, roads construction, hydro-electricity supply and airport projects have failed to inject life into Zimbabwe’s economy. No Chinese president or leader has visited Zimbabwe of late.

Chinese companies — especially in the construction sector — bring their equipment and employ very few locals. China’s footprints are only visible in tobacco where they are one of the top buyers from Zimbabwe and in retail business where they own no-valued adding retail shops.

South African President Jacob Zuma, in his state-of-the-nation address, presented a picture of optimism for South Africa’s development agenda. What he excluded — even though industrial success subsumes strong exports — is the critical importance of economic stability in Zimbabwe which affects South Africa and other related issues. In that context, the issue of permits so far remains unresolved.

South African Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba is expected to further consult cabinet on the extension of the permits and announce a decision before August 15.

Gigaba and his Zimbabwean counterpart Kembo Mohadi held talks in Pretoria last week to try to resolve the issue. Most permits issued to about 250 000 Zimbabweans in 2009 to legalise their stay in South Africa have expired. Gigaba is to consult over the issues discussed with Mohadi in their meeting in Pretoria before a decision is taken.

It should be noted that a few weeks ago, Gigaba informed the South African parliament that he was to make an announcement on or before August 15 on the issue of special permits issued to Zimbabweans four years ago. We believe that Gigaba will stick to his timeline as some permits have expired and Zimbabweans are getting worried.

Zimbabwe already has five million unemployed adults in the country, with no immediate hope of them getting jobs. Offloading another million or two from South Africa to Zimbabwe will foment social and political instability north of the Limpopo River and that will also destabilise South Africa.

Here are some of the inevitable dangers of an unstable neighbour:
Zanu PF is currently embroiled in factional and succession wars. Any slight misunderstanding between politicians and military may trigger a civil war. Add this to unemployment — thousands of youths may be recruited to either side, cause internal and external displacement;

Forced repatriation will increase the level of crime in Zimbabwe, resulting in fugitives of justice fleeing back clandestinely to South Africa;

Corruption at the border will increase, giving criminals more opportunities for drug deals and motor vehicle theft;
Human traffickers in both South Africa and Zimbabwe will take advantage of discontent to flood South Africa with illegals; and
South African citizens and property in Zimbabwe maybe be endangered by retaliatory xenophobic outbreaks since this problem may start in South Africa.

For that reason the South African government should allow Zimbabweans who were issued with special permits four years ago to renew these permits while in South Africa, though this does not suggest an automatic renewal of all permit holders. We understand that there are Zimbabweans who received these permits, but are not engaged in formal legal work.

We cannot be seen to represent those that are involved in criminal activities. As a result, we call upon those Zimbabweans who are still holders of asylum documents to surrender them and apply for permits once the government agrees to a second documentation project.

Post the Zimbabwe documentation project many Zimbabweans have entered South Africa for employment purposes. We therefore request that these Zimbabweans that came after the issuing of special permits be issued with a four-year renewable Migrant Workers Visa/Permit which will be dependent on the performance of the Zimbabwean economy.

Some of the people that had South African ID documents have properties registered under those IDs. The South African government had agreed to transfer all the properties registered in those IDs to new permits. Refusing to renew these permits will be a challenge to about 6 000 Zimbabweans who hold these ID documents.

In conclusion, we believe that South Africa has a role in assisting Zimbabwe in addressing its economic challenges. The two countries have historical ties and thus South Africa’s economy will continue to benefit from the hardworking Zimbabweans. As citizens of a free continent, we as Zimbabweans, request solidarity with our South African brothers and sisters in the name of African unity.

Mabhena is the chairperson Zimbabwe Community in South Africa. E-mail: zimbabwecommunitysa@gmail.com

21 thoughts on “A case for Zimbabweans resident in South Africa”

  1. lerato says:

    It’s been about Zimbabweans, what about the South Africans who can’t find jobs because of all this people.

    1. True African says:

      Are sure Lerato, that South Africans are not getting jobs because of Zimbabweans? Please do a proper research poor girl. Go and buy job mail now and see how many jobs are there waiting for South Africans and now are these South Africans meeting the demands or what? Universities, and schools here are places for drinking beer, having sex , and eating take aways but forgetting studying. People hate Maths and Science like nobody’s business. Everyone here wants to be a celebrity….kkkkkk

  2. Kedo says:

    the reason why they gave zimbabweans these permits is because there are an estimated 5 million zimbabweans in south africa. most where there illegal and even deportation could not solve the problem of too many zimbabweans in south africa as a person would just arrive at beaitbridge and come back the next day aftere deportation

  3. Selby Mahlamvana says:

    The Zimbabwean government needs to bring something tangible onto this discussion. In 2009 there was hope that after ending the feud between Mugabe and opposition the economywill be o a growth path. The growth noted would have continued had ZANU-PF started the project of sabotaging MDC-T ministers by encouraging leakages in mining revenues so Biti looks bad. When the GNU ended they could not plug these holes hence the free fall. Now when Kembo speaks to South Africans he needs to bring something tangible not “illegal sanctions, liberation solidarity etc”. This does not make sense to the Gigabas who were not even born when MK and ZIPRA did the Hwange battle!!!The unios in South Africa are spitting fire and don’t expect much sympathy from South Africa. More so if Mugabe daily tells the world how “empowerewd Zimbabweans are” .

  4. Joe Cool says:

    Mr Mabhena’s assertion that sending Zimbabweans home will destabilise South Africa is self-serving nonsense. Allowing them to remain is more likely to destabilise South Africa, as it will do so at the direct expense of its own citizens.

    To provide work to foreigners when you cannot provide work for your own citizens is economically senseless, whatever fictitious reasons may be given.

  5. lucky says:

    i agree with selby mahlamvana that zim govt must bring something tangible onto this discussion.
    it seems that mugabe does not pull up his socks cause he knows south africa will accomodate his people.
    south african govt gave zim people 4 years now,how many more years do they need ?
    you cannot force our govt to renew your expired permits !

    in south africa everywhere you go it’s zimbabweans.

    1. Bambam says:

      @Lucky..I totally agree with you..I would suggest your government chases out all those wicked and evil Zimbabweans..let them go back home and fight their oppressive government till the get change..as long as they keep allowing them into South Africa and UK they would see no reason to drive out the senile Mugabe and his evil policies..

      Everywhere you go in the UK it is this trashies from Zimbabwe..please drive them out of South Africa and let them go back home with their Shona black magic..animals!!

    2. SA Thong says:

      The South African Government has every right to choose whom they will accept as guests in their country and why should being black be the criteria for one to get acceptance in that country? Get this into your bloated head True African; South Africa is a democracy that could well do without your skewed thinking. If you don’t see any problem with Zimbos (from your side of the country) going to steal jobs, homes, college places and resources in SA, think again; really long and hard. Don’t forget, it was people from your side of Zim who were most affected by xenophobia. With attitudes like yours, you can be sure that things will get worse for your type in the future. There’s no place for arrogant scum like you in SA..

  6. True African says:

    Zimbabweans are Africans, I do not see any problem of them being in South Africa. Do they eat at your house? Stop complaining and continue with your lives. If it was Americans or English people being accommodated here you were going to be fine? Africa belongs to all the blacks…..

    1. Indiana Jones says:

      Not hard to guess to which ethnic group True African belongs His types are always questioning the academic will and qualification of our brothers in South Africa, especially the Zulu. The days when Zimbos could boast of being well educated are long past. South Africans are fast becoming the best educated Africans. True African, your sentiments smack of sour grapes. If you really scorn the way that young South Africans behave, why is it that people from your part of Zim are flocking to SA with faked letters requesting asylum, while in Zim they are privileged when seeking jobs, education, homes and business licences. People from Matebeleland have a genuine case for seeking asylum in SA. The rest should be kicked out hard and really fast. Don’t listen to the pitiful bleating of these amahlole.

      1. True African says:

        kkkkkk, You are clever ne..

      2. Zim chaos says:

        But then if South Africans are as Indiana Jones claims well on their way to becoming the best educated Africans why is the country contemplating changing the education system. If it is not broken why fix it? Why publish a critical skills list if these vacant posts can be filled by South Africans? I will not touch on the news and revelations of CEOs of SA public institutions faking qualifications. That is for South Africans to deal with. The unemployment rate in SA is now huge and as always in such cases there arises a need to reserve available jobs for South Africans. The onus is on the Zimbabwe government to fix the economy and conditions so that these ‘so called undesirables’ may leave SA and thereby leave jobs to SA citizens. SA has many social problems and I wonder if the ejection of the ‘amahloles’ whatever that means will be the cure. Ask any amahlole and he or she will tell you that once the economic (and political) situation changes in amahlole country then he or she is out of SA like a bat out of hell. Let me begin and finish by saying to Indiana Jones you are looking after number one which is in any sense is normal but remember that with or without amahlole SA has huge problems to be solved. Look at the murder and rape cases. Maybe its because of the amahloles. Absolutely maybe. I have just got a critical skills visa and will be residing in the so-called safest estate in SA which is Silver Lakes Golf Estate. At least far away from the xenophobia but then again Oscar used to live there and claimed that he thought that Reeva (may her soul rest in peace) was an intruder! It is the economy stupid.

    2. Indiana Jones says:

      The South African Government has every right to choose whom they will accept as guests in their country and why should being black be the criteria for one to get acceptance in that country? Get this into your bloated head True African; South Africa is a democracy that could well do without your skewed thinking. If you don’t see any problem with Zimbos (from your side of the country) going to steal jobs, homes, college places and resources in SA, think again; really long and hard. Don’t forget, it was people from your side of Zim who were most affected by xenophobia. With attitudes like yours, you can be sure that things will get worse for your type in the future. There’s no place for arrogant scum like you in SA..

    3. Buffalojump says:


      Africa is just one group of people. SA has Zimbabwe people moving there for work and opportunities. Zimbabwe and it’s years of poor economic policies promote this emigration. The sooner the people of SA realize this problem the better for them. Secondly much of northern Africa is not black and maybe they Iran, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait etc should move to Zimbabwe and take over business.

  7. fivestar says:


    0773 528 045
    0715 415 931
    0737 618 376

  8. True African says:

    kkkkk, “The South African Cabinet on Wednesday the 8th of August 2014 approved a new permits special dispensation process for Zimbabweans, ending moths of Uncertainty caused by the country’s recently introduced immigration rules”…….These are the latest news kkkkkk, Arrest THEM for stealing jobs, college places, and resources in SA if you can. Send them to prison really long and hard. Don’t forget it was people like you who were most affecting Zimbabweans through Xenophobia. With attitudes like yours, you can be sure that things will get worse for your type in the future. There is a place for thick headed people like you in SA..kkkkk.

  9. Sirius says:

    Permits to be renewed.

  10. JO says:




  11. Clive Mphambela says:

    I will preface my comment by stating that l am an economist so i will give an economic perspective to this issue. Firstly all govenments in coming up with immigration policy look at the economic trade off. True unemployment in SA is high but there are structural considerations. SA publishes a critical skills list every year aimed mainly at attracting zimbabwean skilled workers into critical jobs in the SA economy.However it is not true thatZimabweans are crowding out locals from the job market.Zimbos typically are working low esteem jobs that southafrican are no longer willing to do.menial jobs in factories drivers cleaners hotels and fast food industry. A large number of zimbos are labourers on south africas farms.a great number of our aunts and sisters are domestic workers and cleaners in shops and hotels. Many years Before the 2010 world cup SA had to legitimise many of these workers. They needed a strong manual labour base of decent people to support the economy through

  12. Clive Mphambela says:

    Through the world cup and beyond..these are economic reasons. Also it makes sense as Zimbos make up formally about 2% of south africas labour force if not more..you cant just wake up one day and cut that off. At the next level it is better to have legal immigrants rather than illegal ones.the government can plan better..pitty though that some of our brothers and sisters have come to be petty thieves and prostitutes but thats a small number. Overall SA economy depends significantly on Zimbabwean labour at all levels..low esteem jobs and highly skilled proffessionals..Lastly coming to the subject of xenophobia wjere l must state upfront that lm not an expert. I will use an example. In the early 80s after Zimbabwes independence Zimbabwe became home to 1000s of batswana. They would come especially to seek education and Zimbabwe was accommodating to the extent that in Bulawayo there was a large pool of Tswana students whobwould spend years studying at our universities and colleges. Never once was a motswana attacked by zimbabweans. Our economy at that time was good. We loved them. Today Batswana treat Zimbabweans like scum. But you know what they say what goes around can come around. Things change over time and who kmows. In 20 years we may be dealing with large numbers of South Frican immigrants..so indeed Afrika is for all african .lets accommodate each other and shame the devil by pulling together. Through good and bad times.

  13. cee joy says:

    Here is what Lerato above wrote. “It’s been about Zimbabweans, what about the South Africans who can’t find jobs because of all this people.” KKKK “because of this all THIS people” What type of job can be offered to this Lerato who does not know the difference between THIS and THESE?
    Yes there is unemployment in South Africa but those with required skills get jobs. As a teacher, there are lot of vacancies for Maths, Science and Accounting teachers. There are no takers from here in RSA. If foreigners are employed, then the locals start making noise. Do they want these innocent children to go untaught the whole year?

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