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Supreme Court upholds decision against termination of Zimbabwean Exemption Permit

Sameera Casmod |
22 February 2024 | 22:40 SAST
2 minute read

Image: Adobe Stock

In June last year, the High Court in Pretoria declared the termination of Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) as unconstitutional. The Department of Home Affairs attempted to overturn this ruling, but the Supreme Court of Appeal has dismissed the bid.

The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF), an advocacy group, has lauded the Appeal Court’s decision.

The ZEP was introduced by the Department of Home Affairs to address the influx of Zimbabwean immigrants who didn’t qualify for asylum or refugee status.

ZEPs enable Zimbabwean immigrants to conduct business, work, and seek employment in South Africa.

Naseema Fakir, Director of Legal Programs at HSF, explains that the ZEP, despite being termed temporary, became a lifeline for thousands of Zimbabweans who had built lives in South Africa.

However, the Department’s abrupt decision to terminate the permit at the end of 2021 sparked controversy, affecting approximately 120 000 individuals and their families.

“At the end of 2021, the Department then decided to cancel the ZEP permit and said all Zimbabweans on the permit needed to go back to Zimbabwe…It was essentially going to be a situation of dumping 120 000 people and their families over the border and we took issue with that,” Fakir told Radio Islam International.

Central to the issue was the lack of consultation with affected parties, both in South Africa and Zimbabwe, before making the termination decision. Fakir emphasised the importance of reasoned decision-making and consultation.

“People had made homes, lives, had children, jobs in South Africa, had nothing to go back to in Zimbabwe, and they were not consulted when this termination was made and neither were their counterparts in Zimbabwe,” Fakir said.

The problem is rooted in rising concerns about South Africa’s ability to cope with its own social and economic challenges, and the need to prioritise South African citizens.

Fakir highlights the need for a fair and consultative process for all stakeholders.

“I don’t think in this case it’s only about it affecting Zimbabweans and disadvantaging South Africans if the ZEP permit endures,” Fakir said.

There are positive economic outcomes from the influx of Zimbabwean immigrants on South African shores, Fakir notes.

There is a need to consider the effect of decisions on people’s lives, as well as a need to base decision-making on sound reason.

“We cannot stand by with a government that does not have good reasoned decision-making… We have a constitution to uphold, and we have to have just…action. You have to make decisions on sound reasons, you have to consult with the people where that reason affects them, and that has not been done,” Fakir says.

Fakir says it is most likely that the Department of Home Affairs will pursue an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Looking ahead, Fakir noted the possibility of the Department pursuing further legal avenues, including an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

The ZEP will remain in effect until the end of 2025, regardless of the outcome of the court process, giving Zimbabweans “security in homes and jobs in South Africa”.

Fakir clarified that the court case was not about turning the ZEP into a permanent solution, but rather a bid to have a full consultation process with Zimbabwe and South Africa. She emphasised the importance of time to prepare adequately for their return to Zimbabwe.

Listen to the full interview on Sabaahul Musilm with Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat here.


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