SYDNEY KAWADZA THE National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA) has called on its members to check Zimbabwean employees’ documentation ahead of the expiry of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs) in December this year.
The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF), Zimbabwean Immigration Federation and ZEP Holders Association hauled the Department of Home Affairs to court over the discontinuation of the special permits for Zimbabweans.
NEASA challenged its members to implore their migrant workforce to visit the Department of Home Affairs to check on visas required after the expiry of the permits.
In a paper titled: Zimbabwe Special Permits: Permits To Be Terminated – Guidance for Employers and Employees, NEASA senior policy advisor Rona Bekker said the October court processes could be an exercise in futility.
“Although two organisations, the HSF and the Zimbabwean Immigration Federation, are hauling the Department of Home Affairs to court over the discontinuation of the permits, one cannot bargain on the outcome being favourable for the affected employees and their respective employers,” Bekker said.
“NEASA consequently wishes to inform employers to prepare for the worst outcome. Termination of the permits would turn ZSP holders in South Africa into undocumented migrants and force their return to Zimbabwe if they fail to meet the strict requirements of visa categories on offer.”
HSF is arguing that the Zimbabwean nationals holding ministerial exemptions permits are married to South African nationals or have children holding South African identification and travel documents.
“The minister’s decision accordingly threatens to break up families and displace many people if implemented,” the foundation argued in court papers filed at the Gauteng High Court South Division in Pretoria.
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Bekker said the permit holders are, consequently, likely to lose their employment, businesses and property.
“Apart from serious human rights violations of the decision by the Minister of Home Affairs, the above has serious implications for our members, who employ Zimbabwean workers using this permit,” she said.
“The Zimbabwean employees on this permit system will have to apply for either a work permit or some other form of special permit/visa in order to remain employed after December 31 2022.
“It should be noted that ZSP holders are not entitled to apply for permanent residence, irrespective of the period of stay in South Africa,” Bekker said.
She advised NEASA members to inspect all Zimbabwean employees’ passports to determine which system or permit they are on, including informing them to ensure they make the necessary applications at the Department of Home Affairs.
“The members should perform another document inspection in December in order to determine which employees do not possess the proper documentation in order to proceed with the appropriate process,” Bekker said.
“It should be noted that foreign nationals enjoy all the protection of South African labour legislation and Constitution, and should be afforded the same rights.
“Employers are therefore advised to contact NEASA for assistance in this regard.”
In April 2009, the South African cabinet created the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP), which afforded asylum to Zimbabwean nationals fleeing the crisis at home.
The beneficiaries of this project remained in South Africa as holders of permits issued under the ministerial exemption dispensation.
The granting of the special permits coincided with the 2010 World Cup to bring relief to the construction and hospitality sectors, which needed labour.
“Desperate but relatively educated Zimbabweans, for over a decade, filled this need and attained specialised skills in a historically low skill industry,” Bekker said.
The DZP, which has since changed to the Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP), provided legal protection to an estimated 182 000 Zimbabwean nationals living, working and studying in South Africa.
However, in January this year, the South African cabinet decided to terminate the arrangement. It said applicants should apply for a visa to remain in South Africa based on a list of critical skills needed in that country.
The Zimbabwean government has taken a diplomatic route saying it would welcome its citizens and assist them resettle.