8 July 2014

South Africa: Legal Grounds to Compel SA Government to Renew Zim Permits

Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN
Edeline Kupara, from Zimbabwe, queueing outside the Refugee Reception Office in Cape Town (file photo).

South African legislator Masizole Mnqasela has said Zimbabweans whose right to live there under the Special Dispensation programme has expired, should go to court if the South African government does not renew their permits.

Mnqasela who was a researcher for the Dispensation programme as a home affairs parliamentary portfolio committee member said the conditions that necessitated the special programme for Zimbabweans are still prevailing.

He said: 'Some people came here because of torture and illegal detentions; some of them came because as whites they had problems with running businesses without restrictions while others came because they were gay and others because of unemployment. Now who doesn't know that all these things are still obtaining in Zimbabwe?'

The Democratic Alliance MP said Zimbabweans should be permitted to stay because they have contributed towards the development of their host country and they have a right under South African law to seek an extension for their stay.

Mnqasela warned Pretoria against denying permit holders an extension of stay saying that would spark costly lawsuits running up to billions of Rand. He said as the regional UN Refugee office was in South Africa legal advice was readily available for Zimbabweans.

South African-based lawyer Gabriel Shumba, who is the Chairperson for the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, said: 'There was a legitimate expectation that was given at a policy level that these permits will be renewed; so if a permit is not renewed for any reason there is grounds to challenge that.'

He added: 'Apart from the legitimate expectation, one can argue that it is irrational to grant permits that get terminated without any justification for that action. So if you go to court you may win the case.'

Both Mnqasela and Shumba were speaking on SW Radio Africa's Diaspora Diaries at a time when there is still uncertainty over the issue of the special permits which were granted to Zimbabweans in 2010. On announcing the process to review the programme in March the South African government indicated that the Zimbabwean exiles may have to return to their country and apply for the renewal of the permits from there.

Since then there have been fears that the Pretoria would not renew the permits and concern from those employed in South Africa that they would lose their jobs if they had to return to Zimbabwe to renew the permits. Last week Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba was quoted in the press saying if the 250, 000 permit holders' stay was to be extended they would apply for citizenship and that could cause 'shock to the system and government.'

But Mnqasela warned against the termination of the permit saying that would simply fuel illegal immigration which stands to cause more problems. According to a 2010 United Nations report there are over 2,000,000 Zimbabweans in South Africa.

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