In 2009, the South African government issued special permits to Zimbabwe nationals resident in that country.
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: email@example.com