Zimbabweans have reported that they have had to struggle with service of their online applications for the Zimbabwe Special Permit.
While the South African Department of Home Affairs told many Zimbabweans that as of 1 October they could submit online applications for the Zimbabwe Special Permit only a few of the 245 000 eligible migrants were able to do so.
Complaints are surfacing of an online system riddled with problems and down time.
The ZSP will allow Zimbabweans, currently in possession of the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project permits, living in South Africa to work, conduct business or study for three years, until the end of December 2017.
The application process involves an online submission of an application and supporting documents followed by the applicant phoning and booking an interview at one of the 10 ZSP application centres in Midrand, Cape Town, Polokwane, Durban, George, Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Nelspruit and Rustenburg.
But Unice Runeni, a Zimbabwean living in South Africa, said she had been trying to apply for her son since the October 1 and the system kept sending her an error message.
"We have tried calling the call centre but no one picks up the phone."
The secretary of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa association, Khumbulani Moyo, said just over 1,000 Zimbabweans had managed to secure appointments.
"All our members meet all the requirements, but the system keeps on giving error messages to some,” said Moyo adding that, “Another problem that we are facing is that the department promised that there would be staff in its call centre for people to call and set up appointments but it's not so. People have been calling and no one is picking up the phone.”
Moyo expressed concern over these delays saying that if the ZSP process did not quickly improve Zimbabweans going home for the December holidays will experience difficulty coming back if they did not have a permit before they left.
Other Zimbabweans said that the online application process is not that easy for everyone. Some have to travel several kilometres to reach a public internet service provider and must take days off work so that they can apply online but with the system producing glitches and many applicants finding that they are not computer literate enough or without easy internet access to make it an easy process.
"I was hoping to go home this December to see my family but I don't know if I am going to be able to. I don't want to risk not being able to come back to South Africa because I have to work. I am the bread-winner back home," said Zimbabwean Clyde Zondo.
Department of Home Affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said more than 5,000 applications had been processed in three days.
"There is no need for people to panic, we still have three more months. It is only after three months that people can start panicking. I am not saying the system is perfect, but it is working, and it is better than the system that was used in 2009," he said.