Zimbabwean migrants at Beitbridge border on January 4 2021. Picture: SUPPLIED
Zimbabwean migrants at Beitbridge border on January 4 2021. Picture: SUPPLIED

Nicole Fritz’s emotional outburst was misleading (“We do unto Zimbabweans what Boris Johnson has done to us”, December 1). I am therefore writing to clarify matters for your readers, who may have been left confused.

There are no grounds for comparing the travel ban imposed on SA with the decision not to extend the Zimbabwean exemption permit when it expires on December 31. The decision on exemption permit was not a “first response”, a phrase Fritz uses to characterise the travel ban after the announcement on the detection of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron.

Fritz herself says the special dispensation for Zimbabwean nationals dates back to 2009. They have been reviewed since then. Resolving not to extend the exemption is not a decision made in the heat of the moment. Fritz turns a blind eye to the observation that failure to review the exemption permit dispensation works against the interest of the very people whose cause she purports to champion.

One of the conditions of the permit is that the holder cannot apply for any other visa contemplated in the Immigration Act and immigration regulations. Some may qualify for mainstream visas such as business visas, on the basis of successful enterprises built over the years, or critical skills visas in light of their studies and fields of expertise.

Our intentions were clear from the onset. We were responding to a need to regularise the stay of Zimbabwean nationals who entered SA illegally seeking opportunities given the economic situation back home. Dispensation permits had conditions attached to them, one of which was that the permits were not renewable. This special arrangement was always going to come to an end as it was not meant to displace normal immigration processes, which are applicable to everyone wanting to come to SA.

There is therefore no justification to accuse SA of what Fritz calls “simply looking out for their own”, an allegation she made earlier in the case of Europe. By some elusive extension she hopes this indictment applies equally to the decision not to extend the exemption permit dispensation.

There is plenty of recourse for the beneficiaries of the exemption permit dispensation. One of the primary concessions they are getting is being able to apply for normal, mainstream visas and to do so within SA, without being required to leave and apply from Zimbabwe.

A grace period of 12 months has also been granted for permit holders. Fritz knows this. An opportunity is extended to those choosing to return home to make the necessary arrangements over the next 12 months. In addition, permit holders will be allowed to travel freely in and out of SA until December 31 2022, after which they will only be allowed to travel in and out of SA if in possession of a valid visa.

The department of home affairs is approaching companies, employers, learning institutions and the banks to ensure they note that Zimbabwean exemption permit holders who have applied for mainstream visas are to be allowed to continue with, and/or to receive services, provided they submit proof of having applied for a visa in the form of a receipt.

It boggles the mind how Fritz came around to the idea of “dehumanising irrationality” in respect of the expiry of the permits. Notwithstanding socioeconomic challenges, SA extended a hand of friendship to the people of Zimbabwe and continues this support in spite of financial and economic constraints, sustainable development and peace efforts in the region and on the continent.

Contrary to Fritz’s perception, nothing is imposed. The permits were never intended to be a permanent feature of SA life. She herself rightly points out that the gesture was meant “to afford some security and relief”. The permit validity period has not been reduced. It is valid until December 31 2021. This was made clear from the outset.

The three permit dispensations extended to Zimbabwean nationals since 2009 were not accumulative, and in terms of the conditions agreed to with the applicants holders did not qualify for permanent residence.

Fritz does not justify her claim that the department is “dysfunctional even when interacting with those of us whose status is assured”. It is not asking too much to expect those with a stake in this matter to help communicate with permit holders and assist them to make use of the time afforded by the year-long grace period and start applying for visas in terms of the Immigration Act.

The department is committed to managing international migration efficiently and securely while building cordial relations with the countries and people of the African continent and the world.

Tommy Makhode
Director-general, department of home affairs

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