South Africa dumped a plan that would have forced about 200 000 Zimbabwean Exemption Permit holders to leave the country.
The Department of Home Affairs gave no reason for withdrawing the cabinet’s Nov. 25 decision to end the permits.
The decision had drawn a chorus of complaints from human rights groups that threatened to mount a court challenge.
They argued that Zimbabweans who have been living in South Africa for more than a decade were going to be sent back to a country with few economic opportunities and high levels of political repression.
The exemption only applied to Zimbabweans who entered South Africa before the arrangement was enacted in 2009.
Sharon Ekambaram, head of the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme at Lawyers for Human Rights in Johannesburg, welcomed the reversal. Ekambaram said:
It does call for a debate on how we manage movement in the region without infringing on peoples’ human rights and their dignity.
The plan had been to end the permit on December 31 and allow permit-holders to apply for different visas or be deported after 12 months. There are a few other permits they can apply for.
Ekambaram said previously in a letter signed by 46 organizations, that had the plan gone through, the Zimbabwean permit holders’ lives would have been disrupted.
Children were being denied the opportunity to register for school, employers refusing to renew work contracts, and banks denying services or withholding access to accounts.
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