Zimbabweans afraid to go home for Christmas

Zimbabweans who do not have valid permits risk problems on their return to South Africa from their annual holiday. Photo courtesy of Zimbabwean Embassy.

Tariro Washinyira

10 November 2014

Zimbabweans whose permits expire on 31 December and whose applications for new permits have not yet been processed face a difficult decision about whether to return home for Christmas - and risk trouble at the border on their return to South Africa.

In a statement on 12 August, Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba announced the end of the Dispensation for Zimbabwe Project as of 31 December, 2014, and introduced the new Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit of 2014. All the old permits expire on 31 December 2014. Instead, Zimbabweans are expected to apply online for the new ZSP. Online applications opened on 1 October 2014, and close on 31 December 2014. Ministerial spokesperson and media liaison officer Mayihlome Tshwete told GroundUp people who had applied early would get their permits before 31 December, but those who had submitted late should either come back before 31 December or postpone their journey until their permits were processed. If they stayed in Zimbabwe after 31 December 2014, they should probably wait there while the permits were processed, he said. Scattered Zimbabweans have a tradition of going home every Christmas to be with family and friends. They also use the opportunity to meet compatriots returning from other countries who also fled the country’s socio-economic and political situation in the past few years.

A one-way ticket on a Chihwa coach from Cape Town to Harare usually costs R900 and in December the fare rises to R1,300. The trip takes between 30 and 36 hours. Zimbabweans whose applications have not yet been processed and whose leave starts mid-December would either have to limit their holiday to two weeks - almost five days of it spent on travelling - or risk problems on their return.

Several Zimbabweans in Cape Town confirmed to GroundUp that they had already booked their bus and air tickets to Zimbabwe as usual. The only difference is that this year they will not carry groceries, since there is no longer a food shortage in Zimbabwean supermarkets.

Some have applied online for the new permit, but have not yet secured interview appointment dates. They claim that they are finding it hard to get through because the call centre is experiencing a high volume of calls, and complain that calling a call centre number on a cell phone is expensive.

One man who did not want to be named said he had booked a bus ticket in advance for himself and his wife. Since 2008, when they moved to Cape Town, they have only been home once a year in December to see their daughter who is being taken care of by her grandmother. This December, it is important for him to be in Zimbabwe because the child will be starting grade one.

He said, “We want to go and buy uniforms and stationery for our daughter and be there on her first day to school. We want her to feel loved, and to show her we care even though we do not stay with her.”

But, he said, the official at the Home Affairs Visa Facilitation Centre had warned him not to travel to Zimbabwe after 31 December, saying it would be difficult to re-enter South Africa.

“He advised me to postpone the trip until we receive the permits”.

Another Zimbabwean told GroundUp that every year her boss’s mother bought a return bus ticket for her. She had completed her application and had decided to go home on 12 December, though it had not yet been processed.

“I will come back after New Year’s Day. I cannot sit here for the whole month doing nothing. My three friends also booked their bus tickets and will be leaving on the same date”.

Asked about possible problems with her return, she said “I will cross that bridge when I reach it.”

“In 2010 we crossed Beitbridge border post using our receipts as proof that we applied. Why is Home Affairs not doing the same this time? “

According to the new immigration laws, immigrants whose permits have expired do not pay fines anymore but are declared undesirable and banned from South Africa for between one and five years. In most instances this happens on leaving the country, when officials checking passports find that the passport holder has been staying in South Africa without a valid permit.