Representatives from Africa Unite attended the Annual ASILE Project meeting. This was organized by the University of Cape Town (UCT), Refugee Rights Unit and the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on the 25th of January 2023. The event took place at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business. The main purpose of the meeting was to present an intervention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as discuss the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) case at hand. In November 2021, Cabinet announced that it will no longer extend the validity of the ZEP. Initially the permit was to expire in December 2021, leaving almost all the 180,000 permit holders undocumented. However, advocacy groups intervened, and the government relented, granting a 12-month grace period until December 2022, which was again extended to the 30th of June, 2023. This was to give more time for people to apply to remain in South Africa on a critical skills permit, though very few ZEP holders meet the stringent critical skills criteria.
The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association (ZEPHA) first lodged a court action against Home Affairs in October of 2022. Advocate Simba Chitando filed the papers in the Gauteng High Court, requesting the government grant ZEP holder’s permanent residency. The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) and the Zimbabwe Immigration Federation then initiated court action against Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, in a bid to overturn the decision in early June of 2022. Other groups providing backing in the litigation include the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CORMSA), the Scalabrini Centre, and the UNHCR. Several Zimbabwean Exemption Permit holders and representatives from different advocacy groups were also in attendance in the build-up to their case opposing the South African government’s decision to no longer extend the validity of the permit.
A keynote address was given by Ms. Monique Ekoko, the UNHCR Regional Representative (SADC) on Complementary Pathways to Refugee Protection. This was followed by a panel discussion dedicated to ‘Temporary Protection for Refugees: The case of Zimbabwe.’ During the meeting, several ZEP holders spoke about how the government’s decision to withdraw the ZEP has affected them. Some people could not hold back their tears while sharing their stories.
Mr. James Chapman from the Scalabrini Centre, a civil society representative from Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa – the man who launched the strategic litigation to challenge the decision (taken by government to end the temporary protection) – was also in attendance. He re-assured all those affected by the Ministers decision that the Scalabrini Centre will do all they can to assist. Advocate David Simonsz – one of the Legal Practitioners challenging the decision taken by the government to end the temporary protection of Zimbabwean ZEP holders – also noted that for many of the people affected, “South Africa is the only country they know.”