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from MTHULISI SIBANDA in Johannesburg, SA
JOHANNESBURG – PANIC has gripped Zimbabweans in neighbouring South Africa as the expiry of their permits issued by the host government nears.

The Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs) lapse on December 31 but it is unclear if they will be renewed.

There is confusion each time the documents, first issued in 2010, expire but this time, reports suggesting the government will not issue new permits have aggravated panic.

There is also the issue of reduced gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has delayed the renewal of passports at the Zimbabwean Consulate in South Africa.

A Zimbabwean, Felistus Antonio, lamented the conflicting reports he said he heard from media.

“Reports suggested the South African government is busy with election preparations,” he said.

Local government polls are set for October, pending the COVID-19 situation.

“I heard on radio that SA Home Affairs is not responding to organisations representing Zimbabweans. Others said the response was given but not satisfactory,” Antonio said.

Another Zimbabwean in the neighbouring country, Wisdom Ncube, also argued with South Africa battling waves of COVID-19, Zimbabweans were not a priority.

“If one really looks at what COVID-19 is doing to the people and the economy, one will understand why there is silence. This is obviously the least of their (government) problems. We will be last on the agenda,” Ncube said.

About 180 000 Zimbabweans hold ZEPs.

Some banks have reportedly warned Zimbabweans to renew their permits or face closure of their accounts in December.

The financial firms previously closed accounts when permits expire.

A bank official told this publication the accounts will be suspended once permits expire.

Gabriel Shumba, head of the South Africa-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), said, “The mood amongst thousands of Zimbabweans on ZEP is one of panic and anxiety.”

He disclosed ZEF held meetings with the Department of Home Affairs to clarify the position of the South African government and cabinet.

“There is no indication one way or the other,” Shumba said.

He assured the organisation would continue with representations and negotiations.

“All we can say at present is that the SA government is exhorting all on ZEP to migrate to mainstream permits where possible. If these permits are not renewed, it would indeed be devastating,”Shumba added.

Siyabulela Qoza, spokesperson for the Minister of Home Affairs, professed ignorance of reports that permits would be renewed.

“Which reports are suggesting that there will be no renewal? We are not aware of them” Qoza said.

The official could not respond when furnished with media reports.

“As to whether there are plans on the side of government on the way forward, we can confirm that there is a plan,” Qoza said.

It is estimated some 3 million Zimbabweans, mostly undocumented, reside in South Africa.

– CAJ News