About 180,000 Zimbabweans working in South Africa who faced the threat of being kicked out of the country, even if their children are citizens, have welcomed a court ruling to stop the action. Pretoria's High Court ruled the government's plan to terminate their special residency permits was unconstitutional.
The High Court’s decision is a blow to South Africa's Home Affairs Ministry and a win for Zimbabweans, many of whom have been in South Africa for more than a decade, having left neighboring Zimbabwe amid political and economic turmoil during former president Robert Mugabe’s rule.
To deal with the influx from across the border, South Africa initially introduced special permits to allow them to work but in 2021 said it was ending the program.
The Zimbabwe Immigration Federation challenged the government's intention to force Zimbabweans to return home and the group’s chairman, Luke Dzviti, on Thursday welcomed the court’s verdict.
“I welcome with two hands the judgment, handed yesterday by the High Court of South Africa, in the favor of our organization, Zimbabwe Immigration Federation, and such stance or gesture shows that justice is still prevailing in the Republic of South African, and we are grateful because there was going to be a humanitarian disaster,” he said.
Dzviti said the ending of the Zimbabwe exemption permits would have caused a huge exodus and meant many families in Zimbabwe being supported by a breadwinner in South Africa would have been pushed into greater poverty.
The court ruled that the permits would be extended for one more year. After that, Dzviti said his organization would launch another application.
Siya Qoza, spokesman for South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, said it was uncertain whether the government would appeal.
“The minister is still studying the two judgements and taking legal advice on them. He will, in due course, respond fully to them. In the ensuing communication he will outline further steps that will be taken, including appeals, if any,” he said.
Silous Sibanda is a driver who has been living in South Africa for about 20 years and currently holds an exemption permit.
“When there was no verdict yet, we remember we were still in the dark. We couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t move, we were worried that maybe we’d lose whatever we’d done. ... It's better for those with jobs and who were working. But at least now we are given the space so we can do things properly, and proper planning as well, so it was a big relief for most of us,” said Sibanda.
As Africa’s most industrialized economy, South Africa is a favored destination for Zimbabweans and other migrants from the continent. There have been incidents of xenophobic violence, however, with South Africans targeting other African nationals. Last year, a Zimbabwean man in Johannesburg was killed by a mob.