*Matilda Tebogo (not her real name), a 35-year-old shopkeeper, says she is stressed and nervous about what lies ahead for her and her family. The Zimbabwean national has been living and working in Cape Town for more than 10 years under the Zimbabwe Extension Permit (ZEP) scheme.
Her two children are settled in school and South Africa is home for them, she told Al Jazeera.
“Everything is unclear and we don’t know what to do,” she said. “My children know nothing about Zimbabwe. It will be difficult to leave.”
She and thousands of others are beneficiaries of the Zimbabwean Extension Permit (ZEP) scheme instituted in 2017.
The Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association (ZEPHA) says the number of permit holders is about 160,000, but each person has an average of three to four dependents, effectively putting the numbers of those affected at an estimated figure of close to two million Zimbabweans.
What is ZEP?
Circa 2008, thousands of Zimbabweans migrated to South Africa in search of better opportunities due to economic woes in the country of their birth.
Thousands of supporters of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, also said their lives were in danger for voting against Zimbabwe’s governing party ZANU-PF – which has been in power since independence in 1980 – and sought asylum in the country.
- The surge in immigration led to South Africa introducing the Dispensation of Zimbabwean Permit, DZP, to legalise Zimbabweans living and working in the country in 2009.
- In 2014, the DZP was renamed to the Zimbabwe Special Permit. The name changed again three years later to Zimbabwe Exemption Permit or ZEP.
- In September 2022, the Department of Home Affairs extended the permit which was due to expire on December 31, for a further six months to June 30, 2023.
- This was after groups like ZEPHA challenged this decision and the government granted a 12-month grace period.