Towards 2017 – how prepared are we as Zimbabweans in SA ?   

Towards 2017 – how prepared are we as Zimbabweans in SA ?  

IT’S just a year and half left before the Zimbabwe Special Permits expire on 31st July 2017 and the conditions are clear.

The permits cannot be renewed and  a ZSP  holder  can not apply for a Permanent Residence Permit notwithstanding the number of years one has spent in South Africa.

Before we deal with what needs to be done, its important that we deal with the historical background of the documentation project.

Historically, the people that used to come to South Africa are people from Matabeleland though there were few Shona speaking who also  migrated to Mzansi  to  work  and study.

Even the Zimbabwean first lady, Grace Mugabe stayed in Benoni up  until  1979 and we all know that she was born in SA in 1965.

Many ZIPRA cadres joined the Zimbabwe liberation struggle after been inspired by the African National Congress and its military wing, Umkonto Wesizwe (MK). They left their jobs in South Africa for Zambia. In the 1970s , the apartheid regime recruited cheap labour from Southern Rhodesia and in the rest of the Southern region. Those who did not go back home, simply became “South Africans” by acquiring citizenship.

After our independence in 1980, a number of ZAPU members who were running away from Gukurahundi found themselves in South Africa and  it was easy for them to apply for South African IDs.

One would claim that, one was born in KwaZulu Natal. Because of the similiarities in language (IsiNdebele and IsiZulu is the same) they could  in South African communities without any challenges.

This trend continued even after 1994; where the majority of people from Matabeleland would simple apply for South African IDs, in most cases adopting new names. For an example, Dumisani Sibanda who was born in Tsholotsho , Zimbabwe, would apply for a South African ID and be known as Bongani Zondi from Nongoma in KZN after perhaps bribing a Home Affairs official. This was done mainly by those who could not qualify to apply for work or business permits.

Then in  1995, the South African government granted an amnesty for those from southern Africa who had fraudulent IDs  and were granted residency and subsequently citizenship.

Their  new ID would clearly indicate that the person is South African though born in Zimbabwe but some continued using the IDs that identified them as South Africans by birth, even though one was born in Zimbabwe.

The South African ID was the only legal document that those who did not qualify for permits could lay their hands on. This trend continued up to 2008. The issuing of authentic IDs acquired fraudulently was a brisk business, lots of money exchanged hands  at the Department of Home Affairs.

When the Movement for Democratic Change was formed in 1999, it became a threat to the ruling ZANU (PF). This forced the ruling party to resort into state sponsored violence against members of the MDC and civil society. Many of these political victims had to skip the border to South Africa and to other countries. Upon arrival in South Africa, these political victims could not be granted political asylum by the South African government until May 2002. The argument raised by the South African government at the time was that, there was no war in Zimbabwe. Victims of political violence kept on coming to South Africa.

It was then  in May 2002 that myself  and the  then MDC Secretary General, now MDC President Prof Welshman Ncube and then MDC Chairman in South Africa, Jabulani Mkwanazi met with the then Director General of Home Affairs  Billy Masetla who agreed to grant victims of political violence asylum.

Initially anyone  applying for asylum had to pass through the MDC office and we had  MDC organising department registering  political victims. This process was overseen by the late Charles Ndebele and the late Ben Mutasa who were in charge of our organising department.

The numbers of asylum seekers kept growing and the MDC office could no longer handle the influx in our offices. We had to turn to the Home Affairs dept to ask it to allow people to make applications directly to the department.

This then meant that, Zimbabweans who were not necessarily political victims but economic migrants, turned to seeking  asylum as it allowed them to work , study, run a business and more importantly, it offered protection  from deportation.

Many people applied for the asylum, including those who had South African IDs.

According to the UN chapter on refugees, an asylum seeker or a holder of an asylum document cannot go back to their country of origin until what one had ran away from had been resolved. This would then mean giving up asylum but a number of asyleess from Zimbabwe would go back home, in clear violation of the asylum seekers rules and regulations.

It was then that we approached then Minister of Home Affairs, Hon Maphisa  Nqakula for help.

My  next article  we  deal with how special permits were issued.

The writer Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena is the chairman of the  Zimbabwe Community In South Africa and you can email him on

OR Whatsapp  him on  +27 83 340 1000

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