Validity Extension of Zimbabwe Exemption Permits “far from a resolution”: Catholic Priest

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The decision by the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to extend the validity of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs) from 31 December 2022 to 30 June 2023 is not a solution to challenges that Zimbabweans that have been in living in South Africa legally are facing, a Catholic Priest in South Africa has said. 

In November 2021, DHA Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced the withdrawal of ZEPs, which were granted to over 100,000 Zimbabwean nationals who moved to South Africa before 2009. On September 2, the DHA issued a communique advising that the Minister had extended the validity of the ZEPs to 30 June 2023.

In the communique, the DHA Minister indicated that there would be no further extensions after the June deadline and warned that holders of the permit should not count on endless extensions as a way of resolving their status in South Africa. 

The DHA Minister regarded the extension as offering Zimbabweans a fair chance to apply for alternative visas and waivers.

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO), an office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), said that the decision by the South African department, which verifies the identity of residents in the country “is far from a resolution” and called for authorities to look into other alternatives for ZEP holders, including the possibility of permanent residence.


Fr. Peter John Pearson said, “A validity extension of ZEPs is far from a resolution. The reality is, of course, that few of the holders actually qualify for the alternative visas such as those linked to critical skills, spousal connections and the like.”

“While it was always clear that possession of a ZEP did not imply an entitlement to permanent residence, no matter how long the holder remained in South Africa, this might be a good time to open that possibility for ZEP holders,” said Fr. Pearson in the Monday, September 19 interview.

The CPLO Director whose work includes issues related to refugees, migrants, and displaced people at parliament level, highlighted Pope Francis’ four migration verbs of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating, and suggested that Catholic leaders advocate for permanent residence for the ZEPs holders.

 “I hope that given how Catholic social teachings have developed in this area around issues of justice, especially, but also given the Pope's famous four verbs, I believe the leadership needs to push for permanent residence. For me that's the clear goal of our advocacy,” he said.

The South African Priest added, “All who hold such a permit have been in the country for at least thirteen years, if not longer, and have contributed to the economy, started families, raised children and settled into regular patterns of social and economic engagement, they should surely qualify for permanent residence.”

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“There is no reason at all, given the way permanent residence has been available in this country, that there is a history of granting it after X number of years,” Fr Pearson further said.

He continued, “Given that there is the international precedent, but also, I think there is the issue of clear justice, that people who have been here for so long and have contributed to South Africa, have contributed to the fiscus, have started families here. The only just outcome would be to offer a permanent residence.”

The CPLO Director went on to explain, “We are not opening the doors to millions of people to come from other parts of Africa or the world to come and seek a residence; we we're not promoting any of that. We're simply saying there is every good reason that people who have been here legally should be allowed to continue legally.”

In the September 19 interview, Fr. Pearson slammed vigilante groups and political parties who are using “anti-foreigner” sentiment to gain support in the build up to the 2024 general elections, the seventh elections to be held in South Africa post-apartheid, which will see the election of a new National Assembly and the Provincial legislature.

“We think those are designed to speak into the growing anti-foreign feeling that is so prevalent in South Africa and to get popularity. We must expect that as we build up towards an election in 2024 that parties who have seen that the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment is something that constituents are responding to will bang that drum in order to get political gain from it,” Fr. Pearson told ACI Africa. 


He added, “So, we must expect that a lot of what happens in the next year and a half will be around populist rhetoric to bait voters.”

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.