Several Zimbabwean lecturers have approached the courts to challenge their dismissal by South Africa’s Department of Higher Education (DHE).
The DHE advised several Zimbabwean and Lesotho lecturers on exemption permits that their services are no longer required.
The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) system was introduced more than a decade ago to regularise the status of Zimbabweans who sought refuge in South Africa at various stages since the turn of the millennium.
The Department of Home Affairs last year announced that the ZEP system would be terminated in June 2023, by which time ZEP holders would have to apply for ‘regular’ SA visas.
The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Holders Association (ZEPHA) argues that Home Affairs’ critical skills list, which determines the categories of skills needed by applicants to apply for regular visas, is designed to exclude the majority of ZEP holders.
Now lecturers with ZEP permits are being let go.
In one letter of dismissal, a senior lecturer and ZEP holder was simply told that his contract expires on 31 March. No reason was given.
ZEPHA says it is, however, clearly because the lecturer is in SA on a ZEP permit. Simba Chitando, legal representative for Zepha said:
I can confirm that Zepha just instructed our legal team to approach the high court to review and set aside the decision by the Department of Higher Education to let go several ZEP holders who were employed as lecturers at various academic institutions in South Africa.
Targeting ZEP holders for dismissal from employment at higher education institutions is obviously unlawful,” he adds.
The minister of higher education does not know, or appreciate, the fact that this will cause serious harm to the quality and efficiency of higher education in South Africa and considering the role South African higher education institutions play in the region, it will hurt the continent. It is a decision that ought to be reviewed [and] set aside by our courts.
The three organisations challenging the decision by the Department of Home Affairs to end the ZEP system are ZEPHA, the Helen Suzman Foundation and the Zimbabwe Immigration Federation.
All three argue in their court papers that the termination of the ZEP system would result in hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans being deported or having to leave voluntarily, with little or no prospect of being reabsorbed into the Zimbabwean economy.