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By : Rona Bekker
Senior Policy Advisor at the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA).




In April 2009, Cabinet created the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP) which afforded asylum to Zimbabwean nationals fleeing their own crises. The beneficiaries of this project remained in South Africa as holders of permits issued under the subsequent ministerial exemption dispensation. The granting of the special permits coincided with the 2010 World Cup to bring relief to the construction and hospitality sectors which needed labour. Desperate but relatively educated Zimbabweans, for over a decade, filled this need and attained specialised skills in a historically low skill industry.

The DZP, which since changed to the Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP), has provided legal protection to an estimated 182 000 Zimbabwean nationals to live, work and study in South Africa. However, in January 2022 Cabinet decided that the arrangement must be terminated by 31 December 2022, and that applicants should apply for a visa to remain in South Africa based on a list of critical skills needed in the country.

Although two organisations, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) and the Zimbabwean Immigration Federation, are hauling the Department of Home Affairs to court over the discontinuation of the permits, one cannot bargain on the outcome being favourable for the affected employees and their respective employers.
NEASA consequently wishes to inform employers to prepare for the worst outcome.

Termination of the permits would turn ZSP holders in South Africa into undocumented migrants and force them to return to Zimbabwe if they did not meet the strict requirements of one of the visa categories on offer. As the HSF stated:

“Many Zimbabwean nationals who hold the ministerial exemptions permits have married South African nationals or have children who hold South African identification and travel documents. The minister’s decision accordingly threatens to break up families and displace many people if implemented.”

Permit holders are consequently likely to lose their employment, businesses and property.

Apart from the serious human rights violations of the decision by the Minister of Home Affairs, the above has serious implications for some of our members who employ Zimbabwean workers using this permit. The Zimbabwean employees on this permit system will have to apply for either a work permit or some other form of special permit/visa in order to remain employed after 31 December 2022. It should be noted, that ZSP holders are not entitled to apply for permanent residence, irrespective of the period of stay in South Africa.

Members should be advised to inspect all Zimbabwean employees’ passports to determine which system and/or permit the employees are on, and where necessary inform the employees to ensure they make the necessary applications at the Department of Home Affairs as soon as possible.

The members should perform another document inspection in December in order to determine which employees do not possess the proper documentation in order to proceed with the appropriate process.

It should be noted that foreign nationals enjoy all the protection of South African labour legislation and Constitution, and should be afforded the same rights. Employers are therefore advised to contact NEASA for assistance in this regard.

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