South Africa: Kicking the Can Down the Road - The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Saga Continues


There are about 178,000 Zimbabwean Exemption Permit holders. When factoring in the children, and dependent family members accompanying the permit holders, the number of affected people could easily swell. The magnitude of the decision to terminate the ZEP programme cannot be overstated.

On 1 December 2023, the home affairs minister announced that he is granting Zimbabweans special exemption permits - the right to continue to live, work and study in South Africa for the next two years. The decision, the latest chapter in the long saga surrounding these special permits, brings some reprieve for those affected but still leaves many issues unresolved.

Read in the Daily Maverick: Home Affairs grants extension for Zimbabwe and Lesotho permit holders to 2025

In April 2009, the minister introduced an immigration programme to respond to the high number of Zimbabweans living in South Africa undocumented, or being processed through the asylum system. They had fled political and economic instability in Zimbabwe. The programme created the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) which allowed the holders to live, work and study in South Africa.

The permits were renewed twice, in 2014 and 2017. The latest renewal was set to expire on 31 December 2021.

On 24 November 2021, Cabinet released a statement on its decision to no longer extend the ZEPs. Court papers reveal that this was a reflection of a decision that had already been made by the home affairs minister in September of...

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