SA Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi

Reprieve for Zimbabwean students denied school registration in South Africa

CHILDREN of Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders won a reprieve late last week after the South Africa government backed down in a case claiming many schools were preventing them from registering due to the uncertain legal status of their parents.

The ZEP system expires in June, which means permit holders are required to apply for ‘regular’ South Africa visas allowing them to live and work in the country. The ZEP system was introduced more than a decade ago to regularise the legal status of Zimbabweans who were illegally in South Africa due to political and economic hardships at home.

The ZEP Holders Association (Zepha) filed an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court last week, claiming that children of ZEP holders, who had grown up and attended school in South Africa, were being denied registration at a number of schools in the country.

Cited as respondents in the case were the ministers and departments of basic education and home affairs. Also cited as a respondent was Rand Park High School in Johannesburg, one of several schools claimed to have refused registration to children of ZEP holders. Many of the students were due to write their matric exams this year, and have lost valuable time because they could not register in time.

“After an exchange of correspondence with the schools and the government it became apparent that the affected children cannot acquire a study permit, which is a requirement for registration, because their parents are ZEP holders, and the ZEP terminated on 31 December 2021,” said Zepha in a statement issued at the weekend.

The state attorney informed Zepha’s legal team on Friday that it would not oppose the urgent application, and had instructed Rand Park High School to enrol one of the students denied registration.

The state attorney has asked that the matter be removed from the court roll, but Zepha has refused, saying it wants the court to make an order that provides blanket protection for all affected students. This is seen as a major victory for the rights of ZEP holders in South Africa.

“We’re obviously happy that the government has wisely decided not to oppose this application in court. Our instructions are to proceed for an order of court that will assist all affected ZEP children, and not just the few,” says Advocate Simba Chitando, who is representing Zepha in this case.

“Unfortunately there is widespread xenophobia in South Africa, even in the administrative bodies of academic institutions, coupled with confusion as to the legality of registering students without a study permit, for no fault on the part of the affected children, which is a matter that can only be resolved for the benefit of the public by a binding court order.”

The termination of the ZEP system is being challenged in a separate case by Zepha, which argues that permit holders, most of them taxpayers in South Africa, have a legitimate right to permanent residence in the country. Two other human rights groups — the Helen Suzman Foundation and the Zimbabwe Immigration Federation — have also challenged the decision by Home Affairs to terminate the ZEP system, arguing that it would result in hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans being deported or having to leave voluntarily.

They argue this would create a human rights catastrophe across the region, as many of them have no prospect of supporting themselves or finding work in Zimbabwe. The ZEP case against the South Africa government will be heard in April this year.Chitando says Zimbabweans in South Africa are facing mounting persecution, particularly now as the June 2023 ZEP expiry deadline approaches. Zepha took the Department of Home Affairs to court over a directive that threatened to lock ZEP holders’ bank accounts in South Africa. That directive was withdrawn in December 2021.

There are also reports of Zimbabweans being charged as foreigners in South Africa hospitals, while banks have been pressuring Zimbabweans to apply for ‘mainstream’ visas ahead of the expiry of the ZEP system. Members of Operation Dudula are also reportedly approaching businesses and demanding they remove Zimbabwean employees and replace them with South Africans, while selling these jobs to locals for R2 000 or more. — Moneyweb

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