Zimbabweans living in South Africa have been offered a lifeline amid reports that those returning from their annual holidays in Zimbabwe were being given as little as five days to remain in the neighbouring country.
More than 200 000 Zimbabweans in that country are waiting renewal of their permits issued in 2009 under special Dispensation for Zimbabweans Project (DZP).
The five year permits expired on 31 December, 2014, and the South African authorities had initially said they will not renew the permits.
However, talks between the Zimbabwean and South African Home Affairs ministries yielded positive results, with both countries agreeing to extend the permits by three years.
Earlier the South African Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba, had assured Zimbabweans who are holders of the permit that they are free to go home, and return to South Africa next year without fear of being penalised or declared “undesirable.”
Zimbabweans returning to their bases in South Africa raised alarm after they were given about five days to visit the neighbouring country, a situation they viewed as an attempt by the South African government to keep them out of the country.
However, the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa (ZCSA) chairperson, Ngqabutho Mabhena in a statement on Monday put to rest those fearing for the worst.
“The former DZP holders who were given less than 90 days (3 or 5 days) should not panic,” said Mabhena.
“No one will be charged for overstaying in the country, this has been communicated to the management at the port of entry. There is no need to rush to the any Home Affairs office or to the border to get the passport stamped.”
Mabhena said those who had submitted proof of application to VFS in the form of a 2010 receipt or a reference should wait for an announcement as senior managers at Home Affairs are still on leave.
There was also panic that some might have their bank accounts closed after the expiry of permits.
“Home Affairs has contacted the South African Banking Association with regards to frozen accounts over the expiry of DZP permits. The leadership of the Banking Association is now in talks with banks to ensure that accounts are not frozen and those frozen are re-activated” he added.
An estimated three million Zimbabweans are believed to be living abroad, with more in South Africa.