Thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa face a gloomy Christmas as they have just under 10 days left before a December 31 deadline to register and obtain proper documentation or face deportation.
Zimbabweans who miss the December 31 deadline to register will face deportation, and scores are anxious. Some have already spent several nights outside South African Home Affairs offices in order to obtain the required documents on time.
The registration process started three months ago, and notwithstanding the fact that many had applied right from the beginning, it is still not clear if they will receive their permits on time.
Whilst the government says that only 124,314 Zimbabweans had applied for visas by December 19, the numbers fall short of what relief agencies estimate could be as many as 1.5 million in South Africa. Only about 10 000 passports have been issued in the past two months, out of many tens of thousands.
Getting the permits relies on having proper identification, in the form of a Zimbabwean passport, but the authorities are struggling to deal with the numbers requested.
Speaking to Afrik-News.com Wednesday in Musina, a border town with Zimbabwe, some said they were increasingly getting frustrated with the slow process.
According to Alois Phiri, 28, although he applied on September 22 – a day after the registration process began – “they tell me my application is
still pending. I have submitted all they (Home Affairs) required, but when I come here they tell me my application is still pending,” he said.
“If they have rejected my application they should say so. Then I can get whatever they require in order to sort out my application.”
Phiri’s cousin, Amanda claimed she applied for a passport in October but had only received a text message from Home Affairs, saying they had just
received her application. Her worry was that when she applied for the new permit, like many others, she had to surrender her asylum documents.
Applicants are not allowed to work until their permits have been approved, and without proper documentation it is almost impossible to be offered a permanent job or even to open a bank account.
“We’re suffering. Employers take advantage of the fact that we don’t have papers and exploit us,” Amanda said.
South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, announced last week that there would be no extension of the the December 31 deadline.
Meanwhile, South Africa has beefed up border security ‘to ensure the safe and smooth movement of travelers. But human rights activists worry that the government might be targeting Zimbabwean migrants traveling home for Christmas.
Hundreds of soldiers, police, and intelligence personnel to tighten security at the northern border with Zimbabwe have been deployed.
The Beitbridge-Musina border crossing between Zimbabwe and South Africa is one of the busiest international roadways in Africa, with many travelers to and from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique passing through.
“As a department, we are confident that all the required measures are in place to ensure the safe and smooth movement of travelers into and out of the country,” South Africa’s home Affairs department said in a statement.
But some Zimbabweans and human rights activists see the deployment of
police, soldiers, and intelligence officers as an attempt to stop the migration of Zimbabweans into South Africa.