Visa company bureaucracy trips up Zimbabweans

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Over 4,000 Zimbabwean still do not have their special permits

Photo of people in queue
Zimbabweans queuing for permits outside the ABSA building in Cape Town in 2015. Photo: Masixole Feni.
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Sibongile* has become unemployed and her accounts have been deactivated. “My life is on hold,” she says. Sibongile, who came to Cape Town from Zimbabwe in 2009, has been unable to get a special permit from the Department of Home Affairs which would allow her to work and bank.

The Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permit (ZSP) was implemented by Home Affairs in 2009 (it was called the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project then). Its aim was to help Zimbabweans legalise their stay in South Africa. It was renewed in 2014 and it expires on 31 December 2017.

But there have been complaints of bureaucratic hurdles making it difficult to get a ZSP. It’s difficult to know how many people are in the same position as Sibongile. Refugee rights organisation Passop says it has ten such cases on its database. But there are many more.

Tendai Bhiza of Passop says she desperately wants to know what happened to clients’ applications. “Without proper documents they face the possibility of getting arrested or losing businesses. Some of these people have already lost their jobs,” Bhiza said.

One of those people is Sibongile. She now has to get financial support from her cousin and by doing piece jobs. Some employers pay her very little, taking advantage of the fact that she does not have a permit to allow her to work legally in the country.

Bhiza says Passop sent emails to the Home Affairs official responsible for the ZSP but did not get feedback. The organisation has also contacted the company to which the state has outsourced part of the process, Visa & Permit Facilitation Centre (VFS), but did not get any assistance.

The delays seem to occur because of the complicated three-way communication needed between applicants, VFS and Home Affairs.

For example, GroundUp found out from Home Affairs official Gerson Muti that Sibongile’s permit had been printed on 26 August 2015, yet Sibongile says VFS told her that her permit had been rejected.

Muti also told GroundUp that 4,126 were ready but had not been collected by applicants. Some had already been returned by VFS to Home Affairs when applicants went to collect their permits from VFS.

When GroundUp asked VFS for comment, its media spokesperson said, “I am sure we can solve the issue before it gets to the press.” When we explained that the issue is already in the media, he promised to send his email address to this reporter’s mobile phone. It had not arrived as of Friday afternoon.

* We have not used Sibongile’s surname to protect her identity.

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