A new organisation based in Johannesburg has started engaging the authorities in South Africa, seeking a commitment that permits granted to Zimbabweans under a special dispensation period, will be renewed.
The 'Zimbabwe Community in South Africa', which was launched in the past two weeks, has had preliminary meetings with the ANC's international relations department, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) about the permit issue, with concern growing that the documents will not be renewed this year.
Zimbabweans in South Africa have been waiting for months for some clarity from the government there, after a cabinet resolution in March that all permits granted under the special dispensation in 2010, will expire this November. That resolution also stipulated that fresh work and study permits can only be applied for back home in Zimbabwe.
Since this resolution, there has been no further clarity on the way forward. Instead, the ANC government, which returned to power following the May elections, has introduced sweeping changes to the country's immigration laws, making it even more difficult for foreigners in South Africa to get work and study visas.
The new visa regime that has been introduced does away with exceptional skills permits that used to allow professionals to go to South Africa and seek work. There has also been the immediate repeal of cross-border and transit permits and a clear stipulation that any new visas, whether it be for work or study, can only be applied for in the home nation of the applicant.
At the same time, the system of fining people who overstay their permits has been scrapped and instead, habitual over-stayers face being declared 'undesirable' and barred from South Africa for between one to five years.
The amended laws have been described as a serious clampdown that will have the worst affect on Zim nationals, especially if the estimated 250,000 Zimbabweans who applied for the special dispensation permits are not allowed to renew those documents.
Khumbulani Moyo, the Secretary of the 'Zimbabwe Community' organisation, told SW Radio Africa that they are "going back to basics" by once again engaging the authorities, much like what happened before the special dispensation period was launched four years ago. Moyo said that "in the first instance" they are seeking a commitment that the permits will be renewed, and the group is compiling a database with details of permit holders who need assistance going forward.
"The main issue of concern is that the people who were issued the special permits don't have special skills in terms of the new regulations. So it's a challenge. There's no guarantee that those documents will be renewed," Moyo said.
Some Zim nationals have told SW Radio Africa that they will not return to Zimbabwe and risk losing jobs and accommodation in South Africa, unless there are guarantees they can get renewed permits. Some migrants' rights groups meanwhile have warned that the changes could force people back into illegal work, because there is no future in returning to Zimbabwe.