All officials in Beitbridge are ready to handle an anticipated increased human traffic at the border to facilitate a smooth return of their fellow countrymen at the expiry of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit in June this year.
Over 170 000 Zimbabweans are based in South Africa under the special permit in South Africa whose life span will end in the next three months.
In November 2021, the South African Cabinet indicated that they will not make further concessions for the ZEP holders, who were then given a grace period to migrate to other mainstream permits.
They have until the end of June this year to get documented after which some will have to return home. As such, Zimbabwe has been putting measures in place to facilitate a smooth return of the affected citizens.
Among other things, the returnees will enjoy a free import rebate including the shipping on of one vehicle which they will be owning on the date of arrival in Zimbabwe.
A number of State actors are also working on several interventions to ensure a safe passage for those based in South Africa.
The district civil protection committee chairperson, Mrs Sikhangezile Mafu Moyo said they had identified the government run reception and support centre and the National Social Security Quarantine and Support centre to house those who would need accommodation upon getting to Beitbridge. The two centres can house 1600 people including adults and minors daily.
“We have identified two places to accommodate the returnees as the receiving town of Beitbridge and we are using the whole of government approach so that the whole process becomes seamless,” she said.
“All the sub committees have been activated to outlay plans on health, transport, health, resource mobilisation and social protection.
“From we are seeing on the ground, everyone is playing their role effectively. In fact, we have handled more human traffic before and we will continue using the same strategies”.
She said more resources were being mobilised through Government and non-government agencies.
Mrs Mafu made the remarks during a stakeholders meeting held in the border town and was attended by stakeholders from the district up to the national level.
The local head of the social services department ,which is in charge of the reception and support centres, Miss Mellissa Zimuto, said already they had made requisitions for more manpower from their employer to handle the huge traffic volume.
“We have divided the period into three categories, that is pre-arrival, arrival and post arrival,” she said. “What it means is that our fellow countrymen would need varied services in those three periods and we are making the necessary arrangements to ensure we take care of all social protection issues.
“At the, moment, while we are attending to all logistical issues, we have teams on the ground raising awareness on integration issues in the known sending and receiving migrants’ areas”.
Social services were also training more people on case management issues, to handle cases relating to the arrival of un accompanied minors or separate family members. Miss Zimuto said they were also, mobilising resources for transport and reunification of specified family members.
“We are also engaging community leaders to ensure that some of the children who are likely to return are catered for under the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM),” she added.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education schools’ inspector Mr Edson Mbedzi said they had a long term program to integrate children formerly learning in other countries to fit into the local schooling system.
A representative of the department of immigration, Mr Lovemore Sauramba (Principal Immigration Officer) told the stakeholders that they were ever ready to assist any amount of traffic through Beitbridge border post.
“The department of immigration stands ready to receive our people from the diaspora, many of whom are very skilled in their line of trade, and whose expertise will contribute immensely towards building our nation,” he said.
“We have requested for more workers and resources from our employer so that we can be able to deliver in line with our mandate”.
He said already, some Zimbabweans previously based in South Africa have started arriving in the country in small numbers via Beitbridge Border Post.
Last year the border post processed a total of 898 accepted returning residents who were holders of the ZEP permit.
For the first two months of this year, he said they had processed documents for 93 people including 66 men and 27 women.
“The station has since requested for 50 more officers to be deployed here with the aim of boosting the current staff complement and we have started upgrading the ICT systems.
We will be having a dedicated team to handle all issues relating to the repatriation of the ZEP permit holders,” said Mr Sauramba.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Mr Edward Kallon said they had noted the level of preparedness by the Government and they were exploring specific areas needing cooperation.
He commended the Government for transforming the Beitbridge Border Post where the flaw of traffic had improved through the separation of traffic into freight, buses and light vehicles and pedestrian traffic.
In 2009, South African government launched the Dispensation of Zimbabwean Project with the main objective of providing amnesty to undocumented Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa to regularise their stay.
In 2018, the permit dispensation was extended and renamed to the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP), for four years which was due to expire on 31 December 2022.
On 29 November 2021, a directive was issued by the SA Director General of the Department of Home Affairs confirming Cabinet’s decision that no further extensions would be granted to Zimbabwean nationals who are holders of ZEP.
However, following advocacy and lobbying efforts by civil society organisations on the state’s obligation under international law to protect migrant’s rights, the decision not to renew the permits was rescinded by the Government of South Africa in 2022.
This gave migrants a grace period until 30 June 2023 to regularize their stay and according to Pretoria that was the last renewal.
While the number of returning residents is large, in percentage terms it is just over 1 percent of the total population of Zimbabwe, and thus less than one year’s natural population increase.