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Zimbabweans Rush to Meet Deadline to Become Legal in South Africa

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

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Peta Thornycroft

On New Year's Eve,  Zimbabweans were still lining up outside South African government offices, attempting to become legal citizens in South Africa before the deadline on Friday. The South Africans have relaxed many immigration laws to allow as many Zimbabweans as possible to become legal.

Some of the Zimbabweans applying late Friday had neither birth certificate nor any other form of identification as they lined up outside home affairs offices, mainly in the Johannesburg area.

This is the last day of a process that began in September to legalize as many Zimbabweans as possible who fled to South Africa during the last decade of political and economic crisis.

There was a last-minute surge by tens of thousands of Zimbabweans as the deadline drew to a close.

Many had been suspicious of the process, fearing deportation. Others stayed away because they had no documentation.

Then the word got out that the South Africans had relaxed conditions again, and would give Zimbabweans time to get their documentation, including passports, as long as they turned up to home affairs and applied to become legal before the deadline.

Director General of the Department of Home Affairs MKuseli Apleni said extra personnel had been deployed on New Years Eve at home affairs offices around the country to cope with the numbers. "We are really excited as a department for us to be able to see the Zimbabweans have listened to the call and come forward. No Zimbabwean will not get attended to by the end of this day."

For some, however, the long, tedious process was nearly at an end. They received a receipt that their application accompanied by all the correct documentation was in place, and that at least for the moment they legally can work in South Africa.

One of those in line Thursday who was hoping for good news was Xolani Nkomo, a mechanic. "I came here this morning, it was 20 to six when I arrived here. I found the queue was too long, but I couldn't believe my eyes, when I was inside. Now I am outside, I am through with everything, all my papers have been cleared, so now I am very happy. I say thank you very much to the government of South Africa for what you have done for me, I am very happy."

Another, Fikile Dube, is in the building construction industry in South Africa. "I am very, very, very happy. It was very fast and they are friendly and and they are helping people very much. I have got the receipt now.  I know I will stay very nice in South Africa  I will be free as a self-employed person. No one will arrest me, no deportation, God bless them."

More than 200,000 people had applied ahead of the deadline. More than 35,000 already have been granted work permits since September.

No one has ever been sure how many Zimbabweans fled to South Africa in the last 10 years. Some analysts said it was as many as 3 million.


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