HomeOpinionHow to minimise socio-economic disruption of SA permit cancellation

How to minimise socio-economic disruption of SA permit cancellation

By Eddie Mahembe

THE South African (SA) government recently decided to cancel the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) or the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit (ZSP), which has been in place, in various forms, since 2009.

As part of managing the cancellation, the almost 180 000 ZEP holders were granted a 12-month grace period until December 31, 2022.

Most of the ZEP holders are unlikely to qualify for the recently published SA critical skills list or the business visa.

On the one hand, most of the ZEP holders are already facing professional challenges, especially with their banks, traffic licence authorities and are unsure whether they would receive their Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for benefits, provident funds, and work benefits after December 31, 2022.

On the other hand, the growing influence of a vigilante organisation by the name Dudula Movement exacerbates the uneasiness of foreign nationals in South Africa.

This article is a first in a series, which is meant to open a discussion on the socio-economic impact of the cancellation of the ZEP on both SA and Zimbabwe.

The main focus of this article is to offer some important tips on how to prepare for life beyond December 31, 2022. I foresee some disruptions, which might affect the social, political and economic status of many people, especially school-going children, those running small businesses, and even those formally employed. As you know, failure to plan is planning to fail!

Background and context

The SA government instituted the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP) in April 2009, which would allow the holders of the DZP permit to work, conduct business and/or study in the country.

The four main objectives then were to:

  • Regularise Zimbabweans residing in SA illegally,
  • Curb the deportation of Zimbabweans who were in SA illegally,
  • Reduce pressure on the asylum seeker and refugee regime, and
  • Provide amnesty to Zimbabweans who might have obtained SA documents fraudulently.

A total of 294 511 Zimbabweans applied for the DZP permit, 242 731 received their permits, while 51 780 were not successful.

According to the SA government, the DZP was established as a “gesture of support and solidarity” with a neighbouring country and as a way of managing the large number of illegal migrants from Zimbabwe.

The SA government noted then that the huge influx of Zimbabweans into SA was “due to political and economic instability” in Zimbabwe. On expiry of the DZP permit in December 2014, the SA government created a new permit, Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit (ZSP), which would allow Zimbabweans permit-holders to live, work, conduct business and/or study in SA until December 31, 2017.

The total number of ZSP permits issued was 197 941. At the launch of the ZSP, the SA government made two important points: (i) SA was looking forward to Zimbabwe’s “return to a path of stability and prosperity” and that the ZSP was to be seen as “a temporary bridge to the near future when all Zimbabweans will re-enter the mainstream immigration process in SA”.

Towards the expiry of the ZSP, the SA government launched the ZEP in September 2017 to allow Zimbabweans to work, study and/or conduct business for a further period of four years (January 2018 to December 2021).

Some of the key conditions of the ZEP were that the permit

  • Does not entitle the holder the right to apply for permanent residency irrespective of the period of stay in the SA,
  • Will not be renewable or extendable, and
  • Does not allow a holder to change conditions of his/her permit while in SA. It is estimated that almost 180 000 individuals are on ZEP.

On November 25, 2021, the SA government announced that it would “no longer issue extensions to the Zimbabwean special dispensations” but gave the ZEP permit holders a 12-month period, up to December 31, 2022.

The announcement was followed up with the Government Gazette 45727 on January 7, 2022, clarifying that during the grace period, the ZEP permit holders should either apply for one or other visas as per the SA Immigration Act or risk deportation on expiry of the grace period.

The Zimbabwean government, through its Embassy in Pretoria, issued a public statement on November 30, 2021 urging and encouraging all Zimbabweans who are beneficiaries of these special permits to “comply with the decision and cooperate in its implementation”.

The Zimbabwean Embassy further highlighted that they had initiated engagements with relevant authorities in the SA government with the aim of making sure that the implementation of this decision will have “minimum disruption to the lives and livelihoods of the affected individuals and their families”.

Socio-economic disruptions

As promised, in this article, I try to offer some possible ways of how to reduce the disruption to the socio-economic wellbeing of those individuals and families who might not be able to qualify for a normal work permit or business visa.

Instead of waiting helplessly until December 31, 2022 and become an illegal immigrant, subject to deportation, it might be important to consider these 10 tips which can be implemented during this grace period:

Tip 1: Drastically reduce monthly expenditures. Accommodation or rent is normally the biggest expense. It is generally accepted that rent should equal no more than 30% of net income. I however recommend that you drastically reduce it, even if it means changing your current residence. Get into savings mode.

Tip 2: Plan your children’s next school. Would you be relocating to a town or rural area? Which one would be your closest school, what are the entry and uniform requirements, etc? A change from one country to another, different education systems, schools and even leaving friends can be traumatic for the children. This must be planned and managed well.

Tip 3: Work as hard as you can. Use this 12-month grace period to earn more income. Hustle as if this is the end of your stay in SA. It might very well be.  Get two or three extra jobs. You would need this extra income to take advantage of the tips below.

Tip 4: Invest in your own accommodation back home. If you have a rural home, I suggest that you build a decent house for you and your family. If you are from town, you might want to extend the current house. The bottom line, invest in a decent roof. Don’t go back into your parents’ or other people’s houses.

Tip 5: Invest in a small business in Zimbabwe. Starting a business, especially under pressure, is a tall order. I therefore suggest that you consider businesses with lower barriers to entry and minimum start-up costs. If you have an option, I suggest you settle in a rural, peri-urban area or growth point to get relatively free space for any of these projects: Spaza (tuck) shop; rearing of small animals such as pigs, chicken, goats, etc.; gardening; electrical repairs; carpentry; etc. In short, use the skills acquired in SA to start an income-generating project.

Tip 6: Consider forming partnerships or cooperatives with like-minded individuals. As indicated under Tip 5, starting a business is a tall order. You might need partners to share resources, expertise and get access to markets. Through partnership, it might be possible to buy capital goods such as tractors (remember there is no duty on farming implements), drilling of boreholes, buying of irrigation equipment, or buying goods in bulk for resale.

Tip 7: Should you decide to invest in agriculture, consider drilling a borehole, constructing greenhouses and drip irrigation accessories. Make sure you join local farmers’ groups, especially those involved in your potential line of business. Use social media to connect to like-minded individuals and organisations.

Tip 8: Register and plan to go to vote. Let me debunk the misconception that voting is being involved in politics. It is not. It is a civic responsibility. It is a human right. Remember, SA came up with the special permits because of the “political and economic instability” in Zimbabwe. Therefore, use your vote as a tool to bring political and economic stability to our country. Let me hasten to say, vote for the candidate you think would bring the stability and prosperity you desire.

Tip 9: Take advantage of returning resident status. The Zimbabw government offers rebates and tax waivers to returning residents. For example, under the Immigrant Rebate, an individual immigrant (including their spouses and children) can import duty-free (i) personal and household goods such as clothing, linen and furniture and (ii) motor vehicles limited to one vehicle per immigrant.

Tip 10: Make and maintain friends and networks in SA. Zimbabwe and SA are neighbours and share common history and heritage. Despite the current challenges, the two peoples share family, language and cultural bonds. The Zimbabwean crisis and the subsequent special permits have actually deepened relations between individuals from the two countries. Those networks are important, even beyond the Zimbabwean crisis.


I understand that relocation would not be easy, especially given that the factors which pushed you out of Zimbabwe are, at best, still present or might have worsened.

There are currently strong push factors in SA, mostly from some political parties, SA government and anti-foreigner community groups.

The intensity of the push factors might increase as SA edges closer to the 2024 general election.

In this article, I have shared some tips on how to smoothen the migration back home. The tips are by no means exhaustive, but I hope they will help us to initiate a robust discussion on this thorny migration issue.

The next articles will try to explore the socio-economic impact of the cancellation of the ZEP on both countries.

  • Mahembe is a development economist and is currently a council member of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and editor of the Zimbabwe Journal of Economics. He holds a PhD in (Development) Economics, MCom in Economics, BCom Honours in Econometrics and BSc Honours in Economics. — eddiemahembe@outlook.com or Twitter: @eddiemahembe.

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