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South Africa Adopts New Visa Policy for Zimbabweans

South Africa will soon waive visa requirements for Zimbabweans and grant them special permits to remain in the country for six months.

South African deputy Home Affairs Minister Mulusi Gigaba says his government has accepted the need for a new policy approach toward Zimbabweans.

"We have taken an important decision which acknowledges that migration patterns between South Africa and Zimbabwe have probably changed permanently," Gigaba explained.

Several years ago the government said it thought as many as three million undocumented Zimbabweans were living in South Africa. But that figure may now be much higher following the catastrophic decline in the country's economy in the past twelve months and a cholera epidemic that has affected some ninety thousand people and claimed over four thousand lives.

It is thought that at the peak of the recent influx about two months ago, thousands of Zimbabweans were entering the country each day.

The new dispensation for Zimbabweans means that for at least six months, they will not only be permitted to live in South Africa, they will also be allowed to work. Home Affairs Deputy Director General Jackson MacKay says, if necessary, that period could be extended.

"After six months we will review and assess the situation again in terms of what is happening back home in Zimbabwe, what is the situation; and if there is still a compelling reason for us to have a special dispensation we will extend that for a further six months," MacKay said.

The net effect of the new arrangement is that undocumented Zimbabweans who are currently in South Africa, will no longer be subject to arrest and deportation. They, and others arriving at the country's borders, will be able to obtain the special permits granting them six month's stay.

But Gigaba says the implementation is dependent on setting up a complex inter-ministerial structure to manage Zimbabwean migrants.

"So that the police services are going to be involved, the provincial and local governments are going to be involved, we are all going to work together as part of one structure to try and implement this decision," Gigaba said.

MacKay adds that over and above the inter-departmental cooperation, the government will also have to set up new offices and systems.

"It is going to need for us to have registration centers in every province. Its going be a huge exercise in getting the IT systems set up to deal with that," MacKay said.

The new policy is a major change and comes after severe criticism by activist groups the government was failing its responsibility toward Zimbabwean's forced to flee their own country to escape grinding poverty.