HARARE – Thousands of Zimbabweans recently given 12 months to leave South Africa have suffered a double whammy after a “cruel” decision by Zimbabwean authorities which will rob them of a chance to enjoy the New Year’s holiday with their families.
Zimbabwe has given those fortunate enough to have acquired vehicles until December 31 to drive back to South Africa, after issuing them prohibitive Temporary Import Permits (TIPs) timed to expire with their special Zimbabwe Exemption Permits.
South Africa has said the permits are valid for another year, but the passports of nearly 250,000 permit holders have not been stamped to reflect this. Zimbabwe’s tax agency said the vehicles should leave by December 31, 2021, in strict compliance with rules governing the issuance of TIPs.
Affected Zimbabweans have decried the ZIMRA stance which they said was harsh.
In a statement to ZimLive on Thursday, ZIMRA defended its decision, insisting that it relied on the information on passports, not public statements by South African officials.
“Temporary importation permits for foreign registered motor vehicles are issued to the importers of such vehicles who meet the status of a visitor to Zimbabwe. This includes importers who are not Zimbabweans and are ordinarily resident in a foreign land. Zimbabweans who are permanently or temporarily resident in a foreign land also qualify for this privilege,” ZIMRA corporate affairs executive Gladman Njanji said.
“The Zimbabwean residents covered by the current temporary South African resident permits qualify on this basis, only to the extent that they remain so in terms of the validity period of those temporary resident permits.
“The temporary import permit is issued as part of rebates and privilege extended to qualifying importers, dependent on their visitor status and the validity period of such status as denoted by the expiry dates of any permit or the residence status denoted by their travel document.”
Typically, TIPs are valid for 30 days. But ZIMRA insists that because the passports of some 250,000 Zimbabweans state that their special permits will expire this December 31, it legally cannot issue them TIPs past that date.
Zimbabweans with the special permits who arrived just before or after Christmas were given under a week to leave.
ZIMRA said this does not affect foreigners and Zimbabweans holding long-term work or other permits from countries they came from.
“It’s cruelty, there is no other word for it,” a cross-border transporter told ZimLive from Mac’s Garage in Bulawayo as he prepared to make his way back to South Africa.
He said the ZIMRA directive, while it appeared not to cover Zimbabweans without those special permits, ultimately affected everyone because tens of thousands of people got lifts from the special permit holders.
It is also not uncommon for undocumented Zimbabweans who own vehicles to ask permit holders to drive their vehicles into Zimbabwe.
Mxolisi Dube, one of scores waiting for transport at Mac’s Garage, said: “The Zimbabwe government must have a department whose purpose it is to devise ways to make people suffer. How else can one explain this decision which completely ignores specific information provided by South Africa’s cabinet that these permits remain valid?”
Dube, who arrived in Zimbabwe on December 22, said he had looked forward to spending time with his family.
In April 2009, South Africa’s cabinet approved what was known as the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP) in a bid to document Zimbabweans living and working illegally in Africa’s most industrialised nation.
Some 295,000 Zimbabweans applied for the five-year permits and just over 245,000 were issued, allowing permit holders to work, conduct business and study in South Africa.
Those permits started expiring in December 2014, prompting the government to introduce a new permit scheme called the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permits (ZSPs), which were valid for three years.
Nearly 198,000 ZSPs were issued, according to the Department of Home Affairs. When the ZSPs expired in 2017 they were replaced by Zimbabwean Exemption Permits, or ZEPs, with nearly 250,000 beneficiaries.
Late last month, South Africa’s cabinet announced it would not be renewing the permits when they expire on December 31. It advised the special permit holders to apply for other mainstream permits during a 12-month grace period.
On Thursday, South Africa’s home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the scrapping of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits was in fact beneficial for some holders, who would have otherwise been barred from applying for any other permit to stay in South Africa.
The minister said that one of the conditions for the permit was that holders could not apply for any other permit in South Africa, which limited them.
He explained: “When you are a foreign national and you get married to a South African, you are entitled to apply for citizenship simply for permanent reasons by virtue of being made into a South African. The problem with this Zimbabwean special permit is that one of the conditions is that you don’t qualify for any other benefits, so it will help them when we stop this because we’ll remove the special conditions.”