Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

South Africa: Special permit for Zimbabweans on hold

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 23 June 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), South Africa: Special permit for Zimbabweans on hold, 23 June 2009, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

JOHANNESBURG, 23 June 2009 (IRIN) - The special permit for Zimbabwean migrants, announced by the South African government, is being put on hold pending a review of the decision by cabinet.

The outgoing home affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced in April 2009 that Zimbabwean migrants would be eligible for a special permit allowing them to stay legally in South Africa for six months.

NGOs concerned with migration and human rights greeted the move as a progressive and necessary step to effectively manage the estimated more than three million Zimbabweans who have travelled to South Africa to escape their country's economic collapse.

Chairperson of the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, told IRIN: "The special permits have never been available. Home affairs issued some kind of document indicating they would be available, but they have not been."

Home Affairs Deputy Minister Malusi Gigaba said at the time, "We have taken an important decision, which acknowledges that migration patterns between South Africa and Zimbabwe have probably changed permanently."

Home Affairs director-general of Immigration Services, Jackie MacKay, told local media: "The permit confers on them [Zimbabwean migrants] the right to stay in South Africa for a period of six months, it confers on them the right to schooling or education, it confers on them the right to work and access to basic health care."

But after South Africa's general election on 22 April, the new president, Jacob Zuma, appointed former foreign affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to the home affairs portfolio and the much heralded special permit system for Zimbabweans came under review.

Home Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa told IRIN: "The [home affairs] minister wanted cabinet to be briefed about the matter, about the scope and implications of that decision [to grant special permits to Zimbabweans], and we'll take it from there."

CoRMSA's Ramjathan-Keogh commented that regardless of whether the special permit was approved or not, Zimbabweans would continue to come to South Africa and work, "legally or illegally".

An international aid worker based in the South African border town of Musina, told IRIN that around 350 Zimbabweans a day were applying for an asylum seeker's permit, and adequate shelter for the migrants was an ongoing problem.

The aid worker said "there was not a firm 'no' yet" [from Home Affairs on issuing special permits to Zimbabwe migrants]. More than 90 percent of applications for asylum seeker permits were turned down, and all they did was "clog" the system and delay "genuine" applications.

Most Zimbabweans are seen as economic migrants; in line with the Southern African Development Community's immigration policies, South Africa has granted Zimbabweans a free 90-day visa on demand. However, Zimbabwean travel documents are difficult to obtain and very expensive.

"We will find no answers to South Africa's problems by halting migration," CoRMSA said in a report released in June 2009: Protecting Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Immigrants in South Africa.

"Substantively restricting migration is neither possible nor is it a solution. Migration is not a threat to South Africans' economic or physical security; managed properly, it can lead to investment, job creation, and a more productive economy."


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