Panic has gripped Zimbabweans in neighbouring South Africa as the expiry date of their Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs) approaches.
ZEPs are set to expire on December 31 and it is unclear whether they will be renewed.
Every time the documents, which were first issued in 2010, expire, there is confusion, but this time, reports that the government will not issue new permits have exacerbated the panic.
There is also the issue of reduced gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused passport renewals at the Zimbabwean Consulate in South Africa to be delayed.
Felistus Antonio, a Zimbabwean, bemoaned the conflicting reports he said he heard from the media.
“Reports suggested the South African government is busy with election preparations,” he said.
Local government polls are scheduled for October, pending the outcome of the COVID-19 situation.
“I heard on radio that SA Home Affairs is not responding to organisations representing Zimbabweans. Others said the response was given but not satisfactory,” Antonio said.
Wisdom Ncube, another Zimbabwean in the neighbouring country, argued that with South Africa battling COVID-19 outbreaks, Zimbabweans were not a priority.
“If one really looks at what COVID-19 is doing to the people and the economy, one will understand why there is silence. This is obviously the least of their (government) problems. We will be last on the agenda,” Ncube said.
ZEPs are held by approximately 180 000 Zimbabweans.
Some banks have reportedly warned Zimbabweans that if they do not renew their permits, their accounts will be closed in December.
When permits expired, the financial firms previously closed accounts.
According to a bank official, the accounts will be suspended once the permits expire.
Gabriel Shumba, head of the South Africa-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), said, “The mood amongst thousands of Zimbabweans on ZEP is one of panic and anxiety.”
He revealed ZEF met with the Department of Home Affairs to clarify the South African government and cabinet's position.
“There is no indication one way or the other,” Shumba said.
He assured the organization that representations and negotiations would continue.
“All we can say at present is that the SA government is exhorting all on ZEP to migrate to mainstream permits where possible. If these permits are not renewed, it would indeed be devastating,” Shumba added.
The Minister of Home Affairs' spokesperson, Siyabulela Qoza, denied reports that permits would be renewed.
“Which reports are suggesting that there will be no renewal? We are not aware of them” Qoza said.
When presented with media reports, the official was unable to respond.
“As to whether there are plans on the side of government on the way forward, we can confirm that there is a plan,” Qoza said.
It is estimated that 3 million Zimbabweans, the majority of whom are undocumented, live in South Africa.
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