JOHANNESBURG: Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has slammed claims ZEP holders will not qualify for any other visa and will be forced to leave the country as a result.
This as Cabinet decided to no longer issue extensions with the ZEP, which ended on 31 December, and further decided on a 12-month grace period.
During the grace period, ZEP holders must apply for other permits appropriate to their particular status or situation.
Those who are not successful will have to leave South Africa or be deported.
Speaking to Newsroom Afrika on Wednesday, Motsoaledi said the government had systems in place to ensure all the applications sent during this period are processed.
The government was working with the UN to process the applications, he said.
“They’ve helped us with money and we’ve hired people to help, even Treasury has given us extra money to hire more people,” said Motsoaledi.
He further slammed claims that all ZEP holders would not qualify for any other visa.
“Who said they don’t qualify? How do they know they don’t qualify? If you know that you don’t qualify to be in a country, why do you stay? They can’t force me to work outside the law, this country is not run on feelings of people, it is run by the law. We’ve got the constitution which must be respected by all.”
Motsoaledi denied allegations that the ANC government was playing to the public gallery by not renewing the Special Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) ahead of the 2024 elections.
With the rise of Operation Dudula and other movements calling for undocumented foreign nationals to leave the country, the government has been accused of using the migrant crisis as a scapegoat for its failures.
But Motsoaledi says that’s “rubbish”.
“I’ve never once scapegoated any migrant, when we started planning ahead for the ZEP, there were no masses who were doing what they’re doing. There was no Operation Dudula. We started at the beginning of 2021 in January knowing the ZEP was going to expire in December. We’re not pandering to anybody, we’re just trying to manage our situation for our democracy. People are just making wild statements without understanding how the situation is.”
He said while the government knew just how many asylum seekers and refugees were in the country, no one knew how many undocumented foreign nationals were in the country.
“We do have the number of people who are refugees in South Africa and those are under international protection. We have he numbers because we even give them IDs. We do have the number of asylum seekers in the country. We know the number of people who are on a work visa, and the number of permanent residents because we report their names to parliament every year.
“What we don’t know is the number of people who are illegal, if we knew them then they wouldn’t be illegal. They’re hiding, and don’t want to come out. They just arrived. We believe it is normal for any human being when you arrive in any country to announce yourself and say I’m here, and tell us what you’re looking for and we see how to help you.
“Those who are illegal, how do we know their number because even organisations in SA, including StatsSA are just doing estimates. Some are saying the estimate is between 3.5 and 5 million people who are here illegally, but we don’t have such figures, how can we have them because somebody who is illegal is exactly that. They’re doing something illegally and did not report themselves to anyone. Many of them don’t even want to be known.”
‘Laws rule the country, not emotions’
Motsoaledi said the end of the ZEPs had nothing to do with emotions and xenophobia, but the laws of the country.
“I’m not going to be blackmailed into that because if I allow myself to be blackmailed, we’ll never be able to run the state. The special permit was not only given to Zimbabweans, it was also given to Basotho and Angolans,”
“In 1998 only 11,000 people came to South Africa to ask for asylum, all of a sudden in 2008, the number changed to 207,000 and most people were from Zimbabwe, and the following year another 227,000. Within two years, we were faced with more than 400,000 people asking for asylum. The system was not designed for that, it was overrun and Home Affairs decided to give them special payments in order to deal with the situation,” said Motsoaledi.
“We said the time has arrived that normal immigration laws must apply, so we’re not changing any law, immigration laws have always been there. We’re saying they must apply like every other person who comes here. It can’t be that Zimbabweans and Basotho have got a different law to rule them when everyone else is under immigration laws.”