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South African Court Rules Ending of Zimbabwe Special Permits 'Unconstitutional'


FILE - Zimbabweans receive forms as they queue to apply for residence and study permits outside the Home Affairs office in Cape Town, December 31, 2010.

WASHINGTON — Zimbabweans in South Africa fearing deportation due to expired visas now have a full year to find ways to legally stay, following a court ruling Wednesday ordering the government to reconsider terminating a special permit that allowed about 200,000 Zimbabweans to live and work in the country.

Organizations representing Zimbabweans in South Africa are hailing a ruling by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, that further extended the legal stay for an estimated 200,000 Zimbabweans who’s visas had expired, from December this year, to June 2024.

Gabriel Shumba, chairperson of the South African-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, told VOA that he applauded the court’s ruling, which declared the government’s termination of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit or ZEP which stopped deportations, as "unlawful" and "unconstitutional."

He called for "thoughtful" reconsideration by the country's home affairs ministry, which the court said lacked “a fair process” of consultation. Shumba said South Africa's Home Affairs minister, Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi, should now reconsider the ramifications of ending the permits, and its effect on permit holders and their families.

"We are hoping the minister himself consider the longevity or tenure of stay of these Zimbabweans and the fact that they have been contributing to the economy of South Africa, some have inter-married within South African communities, others have children now who are of school going age, and a lot of other considerations," Shumba said.

In a statement, the home affairs office responded that Motsoaledi was "studying the two judgements and taking legal advice on them," and he would "respond fully."

Many Zimbabweans who’s permits had expired, have been in limbo for years, awaiting outcomes of court decisions on wether or not their permits would be extended.

South Africa's decision to end the ZEP was set to force Zimbabweans to return home if they failed to obtain other visas.

Forefront in pushing for the rights of Zimbabweans to gain permanent residents in South Africa, have been groups like the the Helen Suzman Foundation NGO and a group advocating for the rights of migrants in South Africa, which took the government's home affairs office to court over its decision.

The foundation hailed the judgment as being of "huge significance" for the permit holders "who have lived in South Africa perfectly legally for almost fifteen years."

The special permit, now known as the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit, was introduced in 2010 in an attempt to deal with a surge in migration by Zimbabweans escaping the economic woes of their home country. Around 178,000 Zimbabwe nationals live in South Africa under the scheme.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

Editors Note: This article was updated to include the name of South Africa's Home Affairs minister and a response from the department.