South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs announced yesterday that it had met its 1 August deadline for processing 275,000 applications from undocumented Zimbabweans, but that applicants would have a further one month grace period in which to pick up their permits, only about half of which have so far been issued.
However, officials were reluctant to comment on the question of whether the grace period would extend to Zimbabweans who remain undocumented but have been exempted from deportation by a special dispensation that started in April 2009 and was expected to end with the conclusion of the Zimbabwe Documentation Process (ZDP). Based on estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that between 1 and 1.5 million Zimbabweans migrants are living in South Africa, the majority were not covered by the ZDP.
Speculation about if and when deportations of undocumented Zimbabweans will resume has been rife in the local media, but Home Affairs officials have avoided describing the grace period as an extension of the moratorium, and in a 1 August statement Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said that the government had no plans to engage in “mass deportation” of Zimbabweans.
“However, those who have failed to take advantage of this process will in due course, face the full consequence of South Africa’s immigration laws.”
Just how soon undocumented Zimbabweans might face the full might of the law remained unclear.
|If we as an organization don't know [what is going on] and other organizations are equally confused, we can safely assume that the entire Zimbabwean community is confused|
"Our understanding was that the moratorium on deportations was lifted last night and that only the Zimbabweans who applied have been given this extension," said Braam Hanekom of Cape Town-based NGO People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP).
However, ZDP head Jacob Mamabolo told a media briefing in Pretoria that "upon completion of the grace period, anyone found not to have documentation will be deported."
Hanekom said that inconsistencies in communications by Home Affairs on the matter had created widespread confusion.
“If we as an organization don’t know [what is going on] and other organizations are equally confused, we can safely assume that the entire Zimbabwean community is confused,” he told IRIN.
Lucky Katenhe, a Zimbabwean member of staff at PASSOP, said he had applied for a permit through the ZDP but was becoming concerned as he had yet to receive it. Even more worried were friends of his who did not apply. "Some didn’t even know about it and some were not sure if it was a genuine process; they were worried it was ploy to arrest them," he said. "Now they are quite worried about being deported because the situation back home is quite bad."
In recent months, reports of political violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe have been on the increase and 39 percent of Zimbabweans told a recent Gallup poll that in the past year they did not always have enough money to buy food.