News / Africa

Many Illegal Zimbabweans Fail to Apply for South African Residence

Zimbabweans pass a police cordon to submit their application forms in a last-minute bid to have their status in South Africa legalized, outside the Immigration offices in Johannesburg, Dec 31, 2010
Zimbabweans pass a police cordon to submit their application forms in a last-minute bid to have their status in South Africa legalized, outside the Immigration offices in Johannesburg, Dec 31, 2010
Peta Thornycroft

Many undocumented Zimbabweans in South Africa were unable to meet the December 31st deadline to apply to become legal residents, a new study has revealed. The study says the Zimbabweans did not have enough time to secure documentation to support their applications.

A study by the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand says during a three-month period it interviewed about 1,000 Zimbabweans who were trying to regularize their stay in South Africa.

It says this process had many "unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles" for Zimbabweans, many of whom fled their home during the political and economic crisis of the past 10 years.

The study said the period from September through December was too short for Zimbabweans to access documentation from home. It also found many applicants were "confused and uninformed" about the requirements to qualify for a permit to live and work in South Africa.

The study also said the Home Affairs Department lacked uniform standards and some department officials rejected applications from Zimbabweans without even submitting them for adjudication.

Senior researcher Roni Amrit reported that as a result of so many hurdles many Zimbabweans living illegally in South Africa "will remain undocumented."

Many Zimbabweans complained their government could not produce passports for its citizens in South Africa, others did not have identity documents or even birth certificates.

South Africa’s Home Affairs Department said 277,000 Zimbabweans living illegally in South Africa completed their applications for residence and work permits by the deadline.

Statistics for the International Office for Migration say one-million to one-and-one-half-million Zimbabweans are illegally in South Africa. The Zimbabweans it has counted include many who fled during and shortly after the liberation war ended more than 30 years ago. It also includes those who fled Zimbabwe's economic crisis since 2000.

The South African government says it will only resume deportations of illegal Zimbabweans after it has considered the 277,000 applications it is processing.

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