South Africa has approved new special permits for Zimbabweans, authorities there announced on Thursday.
"Cabinet approved the new Zimbabwean Dispensation process. The Minister of Home Affairs will conduct a separate media briefing to announce details of this process," acting SA Cabinet spokesman Phumla Williams said in a statement.
The approval follows intense lobbying by Zim nationals, many of whom had regularised their stay in that country through the 2009 special dispensation project.
All permits issued under that scheme are due to expire in December while some have already expired and there had been concern that Zimbabweans would be required to travel to their home country to renew them.
Although SA indicated in May that it did not intend "to reverse the benefits of the dispensation", Zimbabweans were still worried about returning to a country from which they fled without any guarantee that their permits would be renewed.
Close to 250,000 permits were issued to Zimbabweans as SA moved to document those who were in South Africa illegally as a result of the political and socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe.
The Zim Community in SA said they are delighted. "While we celebrate the decision of the South African government we call upon all Zimbabweans to await the details from Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. Let us not rush to Home Affairs offices or to permit agents," the group said Thursday.
The warning on permit agents comes in the wake of reports that Zimbabweans were being conned out of amounts of up to R19,000 by individuals promising to facilitate the renewal of their papers.
Ngqabutho Mabhena, head of the Zim Community in SA which was instrumental in the negotiation process, said there were also cases in which permit-seekers had been given fake documents by unscrupulous agents.
"We expect the minister to tell us how the process will be rolled out by the 15th August as they promised. As part of our negotiations we asked that the dispensation process be extended, and that Zimbabweans be able to renew without having to leave South Africa.
"We also asked the SA authorities to extend the permits to those that remain undocumented, and for our own Zim government to allow Zimbabweans to renew their passports while in South Africa.
"We therefore hope that when Honourable Gigaba makes his announcement, our requests will be granted," Mabhena said.
Mabhena said they will try to engage the SA authorities on behalf of some Zimbabweans whose permits were issued under the Documentation Zim Project and were finding it difficult to renew.
"The DZP is different. It is a general work permit and applicants have to prove that they have special skills that SA nationals do not have and that the job was advertised.
"What happened was that some Zimbabweans obtained them but are finding it difficult to provide the required proof and documents and are being turned down," Mabhena said.