South Africa to reverse Zimbabwe special visa schemes

Her department is also reviewing the recently introduced visa-free entry facility that allows Zimbabwean passport holders the right to work in SA for 90 days.

Home affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said yesterday Dlamini- Zuma was reviewing all processes in the department.

The proposed special dispensation for Zimbabweans was among the measures sent back for discussion on the “nature, scope and implication of the decision”.

Government insiders said that in some quarters it was believed there had not been enough consultation before announcing the measures.

Other concerns were that neighbouring countries did not have renewable visa-free entry for Zimbabweans, and visitors to SA from countries such as Mozambique qualified only for a limited period during the year, and had no right to work.

Set to be rolled out from the department’s new refugee reception centre in Pretoria, the facility was aimed at addressing the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, where many now live off foreign remittances.

Registration of border jumpers was also meant to improve the security situation. In addition, the special permit for undocumented Zimbabwean immigrants would have saved money spent on deporting people who almost always returned to SA.

Loren Landau, head of the Forced Migration Studies Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, suspects that any change of plans by home affairs was for the sake of short- term domestic interests.

During an “economic downturn and job losses, there will always be sentiments against immigration”, he said yesterday.

Shortly before the elections, then Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced that the department would introduce a special permit meant for undocumented Zimbabwean migrants in SA.

Valid for 12 months, the proposed document would have given the holder access to services such as health and education.

In April, home affairs suspended deportations while granting Zimbabwean passport holders reciprocal visa- free entry into the country with the option to work. Such a provision was unusual in the region. While Mozambican, Lesotho and Swazi nationals enjoy visa-free access into SA, they do not have an automatic right to work.

The government was keen on implementing a uniform policy for all neighbouring countries but it was under pressure from local and international rights groups to accommodate Zimbabweans fleeing the crisis.

Last week Medecins Sans Frontieres called on the government and United Nations agencies to urgently address the humanitarian needs of Zimbabweans refugees.

“Every day, despite claims that Zimbabwe is ‘normalising’, thousands of Zimbabweans continue to cross the border into SA, fleeing economic meltdown, food insecurity, political turmoil and the total collapse of their health system,” said the medical group’s SA head, Rachel Cohen.