STILL WAITING: Nearly 300000 Zimbabweans rushed to take advantage of the chance to legally live in South Africa last year, but most are still waiting for permits and fear being deported instead. Picture: FATI MOALUSI
Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa waiting to receive permits applied for under the Zimbabwean Documentation Project (ZDP) yesterday said they were living in uncertainty and fear of deportation.
“The year is almost over and I still haven’t heard from Home Affairs,” said Chenai Mukumba who applied for her work permit in November.
Takudzwanashe Chikoro, who chose to apply for asylum instead of a permit, said he was still worried about being deported.
“I don’t think the papers will stop the police from arresting us. It will be our word against theirs,” he said.
Despite numerous attempts by the government to allay fears of mass deportations at the end of the ZDP process, human rights activists are tense.
“We are worried that the government’s plan to lift the moratorium on deportation of Zimbabweans may intensify xenophobic tensions in communities,” said Braam Hanekom from People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), a NGO based in Cape Town.
He said that any increase in the deportation of illegal immigrants would result in a surge of violence similar to the xenophobic violence of 2008.
Hanekom was responding to an anecdotal study conducted by African Project for a Participatory Society about South Africans’ perceptions of deportation and the ZDP.
Conducted over a two-month period – July and August – in and around Cape Town, the study found that “although, in general, perceptions appear to be evenly divided, a significant number of respondents believe a violent response could be triggered if mass-deportation raids were to occur.
“We strongly urge the government and civil society to exercise extreme caution in their public statements on the subject, as they can have serious ramifications to social stability in the country,” said Hanekom.
His sentiments are shared by Bishop Paul Verryn from the Central Methodist church in Johannesburg central where thousands of foreign nationals took refuge in 2008.
The church is still home to a number of Zimbabwean immigrants who have nowhere to go.
Verryn said the Central Methodist church would be targeted should the moratorium be lifted.
“Things are very tense here because people don’t know what is going to happen next.”
To cope with the evident backlog in processing the permits the Department of Home Affairs has enlisted the help of the SANDF to assist with the finalisation of outstanding permits.
Director-general Mkuseli Apleni said: “We are in the process of collating outstanding documents submitted by Zimbabwean nationals who have applied for work, business and study permits under the ZDP.
“As of December 31, 2010, we had received 275762 applications from undocumented Zimbabwean nationals who took advantage of the opportunity to apply for permits to regularise their stay in South Africa.”
He said a report on the ZDP would be submitted to Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by the end this month.