ZEP extension won’t halt xenophobic attacks-analysts

Chris Mahove

The extension of the Zimbabwe Extension Permits (ZEP) by another six months by the Ministry of Home Affairs in South Africa will not in any way stop the xenophobic attacks against immigrants, especially Zimbabweans, analysts have said.

More than 200 000 Zimbabweans were faced with an uncertain future after authorities announced the permits would expire this December and would not be renewed.

While Pretoria had urged those affected to seek other suitable permits, majority of the ZEP holders had not yet applied for the new visas and were not likely to do so as they could not meet the requirements for the available permits.

Meanwhile, there had been an escalation of attacks on foreigners by South African nationals who blamed the immigrants for their waning economic fortunes.

Hundreds of foreigners, including a huge chunk of Zimbabweans had their property and homes destroyed, while some were maimed or killed by restive South Africans who were demanding that all

immigrants, legal or not, should leave the country.

The situation has been exacerbated by senior government officials who said inflammatory statements against foreigners, including Health MEC for Limpopo, Phophi Ramathuba, who publicly berated a Zimbabwean national seeking treatment at Bela Bela hospital.

But while the extension of the permits has come as a relief to some in the neighbouring country, analysts have warned that the latest development didn’t signal the end of the anti-foreigner sentiment among ordinary South Africans and even those in government.

Political analysts, Zunidza, said the sponsored violence against regional immigrants in SA was unlikely to end anytime soon regardless of the latest action by the SA government.

“It has to be noted that ZEP only accounts for some 200,000 documented Zimbabwe workers but the Afrophobic anger is directed against 1, 5 million undocumented immigrants. So in the first place the

SA government is not solving anything by cancelling the permits whether in December or next June because those permits are for immigrants engaged in the formal sector and not applicable to informal workers against whom much of the Afrophobic hate is targeted,” he said.

Another political analyst, Vivid Gwede said South Africa was sending contradictory messages to Zimbabwean migrants that they may stay but also that they were a burden.

“With government officials now openly humiliating migrants and xenophobic sentiments mounting in communities, the situation is becoming dangerously untenable. Notable is that South Africa seems to rather prefer skilled migrants from whom their economy is benefitting,” he said.

He, however, noted that it remained the responsibility of the government of Zimbabwe to improve the political and economic situation for Zimbabweans to return and live in their own homeland.

Gideon Chitanga concurred, saying the extension would not heal worsening Xenophobia, saying ending the attacks on foreigners would require a totally different approach.

“I think a combination of factors pushed the (SA) government, concerns from labor markets which have relied on Zimbabwean employees, including the education sector, and condemnation by African governments and civil society,” he said

Rejoice Ngwenya said it was important to understand the critical significance of Zimbabwean skills to South Africa.

“My take is that there is background lobbying by 'industry ' that is secluded from public posturing and diplomatic bravado,” he said.

Former Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation (CCMT) Director, Wonder Phiri said the extension of the permits was a stop gap measure which did not address the root causes of the xenophobic attacks, adding that what was worrying was that now the xenophobic agenda was finding support among the top ANC leaders.

“Perhaps they are concerned about securing votes next year. What is needed is genuine dialogue among the two ruling parties to address migration issues,” he said.

He said while a few people might obtain permits, majority of Zimbabweans would remain in SA illegally and future attacks could not be ruled out.

“The number of non-official security structures taking the law into their own hands is worrying; worse the subtle support they seem to be getting from ANC officials,” he said.

A Zimbabwean teacher and social commentator based in South Africa, Lovemore Jack, said it was surprising that South Africa was allowing xenophobic vigilantism when the country was a forerunner in AfCFTA, where one of the fundamental tenets was to guarantee free movement of people and goods across Africa for the benefit of African trade.

“It still remains to be seen as to how this piecemeal reprieve to extend permits will help douse xenophobic flames and also give Zimbabweans in South Africa enough time and space to strategize and decide on whether to stay or return home safely within the confines of protection offered by the extended dispensation,” he said.

Meanwhile, ZANU PF legislators last week assured Zimbabweans in the neighbouring country that the government was spearheading several developmental programmes that would also benefit them should they return to the country at the expiry of their permits.

Zanu PF legislators have reached out to Zimbabweans in South Africa telling them that they were welcome back home should they fail to meet the requirements by authorities in Pretoria for them to remain in that country.

The legislators led by the ruling party’s Chief Whip, Cde Pupurai Togarepi told them that the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa was spearheading many developmental projects meant to benefit everyone including returning residents consistent with the thrust not to leave anyone or place behind.

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