While many Zimbabweans have said they were edgy over the delay of their SA permits being renewed, South Africans have indicated the opposite.
Many do not want to see the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) being renewed and will take to the streets this morning in a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The #NoToZimWorkPermits campaign and #PutSouthAfricansFirst, according to march convenor and activist Tshidiso Rantsa, was not a xenophobic act towards foreigners, but a cry to the government to prioritise its own citizens.
“What kind of country issues work permits to thousands of foreign nationals when more than 75% of its own youth are sitting at home without jobs. When we try and say something, we are labelled xenophobic for putting ourselves first,” Rantsa said.
Rantsa said the marchers had no problem with Zimbabweans who are documented, but they wanted the government to prioritise unemployment of South Africans.
“We are not attacking anyone but, like Botswana, we would really like our country to prioritise us. SA has a high unemployment rate, but we are forced to give all these struggling countries a piggyback ride. It doesn’t make sense.”
He referred to a statement issued by Botswana’s ministry of investment, trade and industry on 3 November, which reserved certain business activities for Botswana citizens.
The ministry “has noted with great concern foreign individuals and companies engaged in operating business activities reserved for citizens”, the document said.
The protected list had 21 businesses and crafts, ranging from bread and confectionery to furniture production, purification and bottling of water, meat processing and peanut butter production, among others.
However, human rights lawyer Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, at the International Commission of Jurists Africa Programme, said the unemployment statistics in SA were not relevant to the issue of renewal of the ZEPs.
She said at the time when the permit was brought in, the asylum system could not process all of the Zimbabweans who were in the country and “an alternative means” had to be found to “ensure that they were documented and not subjected to arrests by police”.
She said the permit had been rolled out on multiple occasions and on a short-term basis to make sure that they could not apply for permanent residency.
“However, this now gives those individuals some kind of security in order for them to now argue that they have a legitimate expectation from the SA government to allow them to remain in this country,” she added.
The government and the department of home affairs are expected to announce a decision on whether the ZEPs would be renewed before the end of November.
Meanwhile the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association’s advocate Simba Chitando said more than 250 000 Zimbabweans have asked the high court to declare them permanent SA residents, following the expiry of their ZEPs.
“The applicants seek the rights of permanent residency, without a date of expiration, because they have been permanently residing in the country for over 10 years.
“The ZEP permit, in its current form, deprives the holder of the rights of a person permanently resident in the country.”
The ZEP, as it is, exploits Zimbabwean labour, he said, by withholding such rights.
“It is effectively a slave permit,” he added.