A South African High Court has postponed a case in which the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) is challenging the non-renewal of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEPs), citing that the matter is not yet ready for a hearing.
HSF is an organisation that holds the government to account on human rights and in June 2022 filed a lawsuit at the Pretoria High Court to contest South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi’s decision to revoke ZEPs by December 2022.
The ZEPs had provided legal protection to some 178 000 Zimbabweans and allowed them to reside, work, and attend school there.
Writing on its Twitter page, HSF announced the court’s decision to postpone the case but added they would have to seek a new hearing date as soon as possible.
“The ZEP court case will not be heard tomorrow (Wednesday) as scheduled. Instead, the Court has determined that the matter is not ripe for hearing and should be postponed. We will now seek a new hearing at the earliest possible date,” said the foundation on October 4, 2022.
In its legal challenge, HSF had named the Home Affairs Minister and Director General of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), Livhuwani Tommy Makhode, as the first and second respondents, arguing that ordering ZEP holders to apply for other work visas would be a nearly unachievable condition in the great majority of cases.
Makhode responded on behalf of both parties in the South African government’s answering affidavit, which was submitted on August 15, 2022, at the Pretoria High Court.
The South African government claimed that it “was at all times made clear to the ZEP holders that the exemption permits were temporary and would not entitle the holders to apply for permanent residence in South Africa, nor were they intended to be renewable or extendable.”
African Diaspora Global Network leader, Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, told CITE if the court postponement was brought on merit, and would not prejudice ZEP holders then the decision was fair.
Dr. Sibanda cautioned, however, that the reality was different because ZEP holders were suffering the consequences.
“ZEP holders are on the losing end. They are targeted, told by employers and prospective employers that they have no valid papers. Some have been fired from their jobs while others are losing their bank accounts to closure,” he said, noting the Home Affairs minister made a determined decision to extend ZEPs by an additional six months.
“The decision to extend ZEPs was a calculated move by the Home Affairs minister who realised that his house was not in order. We hear they have made some rejections to those who have applied for waivers. If they can reject waiver applications now what more when the whole 178 000 people have to be processed.
“There is quite some serious disorder and Home Affairs has no capacity to deal with the matter. Clearly, the minister is trying to buy time to come up with a better plan so they are better prepared.”
In September, the South African government announced that it had extended the validity of the ZEPs to the end of June 2023.
The initial grace period for ZEP holders was 12 months, ending in December 2022, during which they could apply for another kind of permission or leave the country.
Only 6000 permit holders had approached the department in August asking for a waiver, according to the DHA.