Cape Town – Zimbabweans living in South Africa had their hopes boosted this week after some former refugees, almost in the same predicament as them, won the right to remain in South Africa for at least the next four years.
Over 1 000 former Angolan refugees were this week granted the right by the Department of Home Affairs to live and work in South Africa for a period of four years, News24 reported
The former refugees, who arrived in South Africa during the 1990’s as civil war ravaged Angola, had been in danger of being deported when their status as refugees was revoked in 2013.
Their cause was taken up by refugee rights advocacy group the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, in partnership with the Legal Resource Centre, who argued they should be allowed to stay on in South Africa given their close business, family and social ties to the country.
On Thursday, Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize announced that 1 364 of the 1 702 former refugees who had applied for residency under an exemption in the Immigration Act had been granted it, on condition they supplied biometric data.
The permanent residency statuses of 106 applicants with criminal records will be decided on at a later date on a case-by-case basis, said Mkhize.
About 230 former refugees still need to supply police clearance certificates.
Miranda Madikane, the director of the Scalabrini Centre, said she welcomed the decision.
“All parties involved have worked very hard on this case. We welcome the decision to grant these applicants rights of residency, especially in our national context where increasing numbers of migrants are falling into undocumented states.”
But Madikane said some former refugees were anxious about what would happen in 2021, when the four-year period that they had been granted permanent residency had expired.
Applicant Irene Boaventura, 26, a manager at an upscale Cape Town restaurant, said the outcome was a “dream, even if it’s only for four years”.
“The first thing I plan to do is open an investment account.”
Boaventura, who fled Angola 19 years ago with her mother and younger brother, said she hoped to provide the Department of Home Affairs with her biometric data as soon as next week.
The Zimbabweans situation has however been treated somehow differently as most are presumed to be economic refugees.
The economic situation in Zimbabwe has not improved, while the Zimbabwe Special permits expire at the end of 2017, bringing anxiety within the Zimbabwean community using the permit.
Mr Makumbira who is a truck driver based in Durban said, “Just like our fellow Angolans, we hope we will have a favourable outcome also come end of 2017, many of us have worked loyally for the benefit of the South African economy, paying taxes and making all necessary contributions”
“I don’t think Zimbabweans are a burden to the South African government but instead a productive lot” he added.
He went on to say that he personally had seen the economic boom facilitated by the labour Zimbabweans had provided in the road freight sector. He mentioned that when he started working as a truck driver the Durban Container Terminal was not busy,even closing at 18h00.
After the arrival of Zimbabweans and other fellow Africans in the sector, the DCT now opens 24/7 and only closes once on 25 December.
Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize has not pronounced yet on what will become of the over 200 000 Zimbabweans on the ZSP.