Zimbabwean Documentation Project: briefing by Department of Home Affairs

Home Affairs

19 September 2011
Chairperson: Ms M Maunye (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee received a briefing from the Department of Home Affairs on the progress of the Zimbabwean Documentation Project.

The Department highlighted that a special Dispensation for Zimbabwean Nationals was introduced in April 2009 to respond to the high inflow of Zimbabweans into South Africa. Amongst some of the key points in the agreement to carry out the Project was the promise that South Africa would issue permits to qualifying Zimbabwe Nationals in terms of the Immigration Act on relaxed requirements. After the Special Dispensation which ended in May 2010, the Documentation of Zimbabweans Project commenced on 20 September 2010 and sought to regularise undocumented Zimbabweans currently residing in South Africa. It also sought to relieve pressure from the Asylum Seeker Management system.

Within the Documentation of Zimbabweans Project, three categories of permits were considered by the Department namely Business, Work and Study Permits. Relaxed requirements and shortened processes were implemented in December 2010 to document Zimbabweans with a target date of 31 December 2010, for receiving applications. Those relaxed requirements allowed for applications to be submitted without all the relevant supporting documents and without the taking of fingerprints. During December 2010, applications were also received from the Zimbabwean Consulate, identified NGO’s and the farmers to ensure achievement of the set target date.

The Department had received a total of 275 762 applications for permits under the Dispensation. The DHA had approved and issued 134 369 permits and had pre-adjudicated and check listed 141 393 applications. In lieu of the SMS initiative, the Department had sent out 131 658 text messages to applicants and 43 133 of those contacted had responded with 7 163 applications matched to applications. 6 243 applicants under the Dispensation had applied for amnesty and 49 255 had surrendered their asylum seeker status in applying for permits under the Dispensation. There had been a total of 116 960 incomplete applications received by the Department. There were still some phasing-out initiatives which were in progress with the final closing report to be presented to the Minister with a clear direction to be pronounced by her.

Members asked when the Documentation Project would be complete. They sought clarity on the role of the South African Defence Forces in assisting with permitting. They asked when the amnesty period for the Project expired. They asked how long business and work permits issued under the Project were valid for. They asked whether the Department had statistics on how many Zimbabweans had opted not to apply for permits under the Project.

Members asked who had been responsible for the issuance of fraudulent documents and what could be done to punish the people responsible. They asked whether the Department traced illegal immigrants in the country and had a record of how many illegal migrants there were in the country. They commented that it was important to take into account international conventions when drafting policy on migrants and refugees; he noted the importance of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees to which South Africa was a signatory.

Meeting report

Department of Home Affairs Briefing on the Zimbabwean Dispensation
Mr Jack Monedi, Acting Chief Director for Permits: Department of Home Affairs (DHA) briefed the Committee on progress made on the Zimbabwean Dispensation.

The Department highlighted that a special dispensation for Zimbabwean Nationals was introduced in April 2009 to respond to the high inflow of Zimbabweans into South Africa. A bilateral meeting of Ministers had been held on 17 June 2010 and the meeting had agreed amongst others on the following:
The moratorium on deportations and special dispensation should come to an end following the positive socio-political development in Zimbabwe;
That both countries should work jointly to regularise Zimbabwe nationals.
A joint Project to document Zimbabwe Nationals;
Zimbabwe will issue passports to all its nationals;
South Africa would issue permits to qualifying Zimbabwe Nationals in terms of the Immigration Act on relaxed requirements

After the Special Dispensation which ended in May 2010, the Documentation of Zimbabweans Project (DZP) commenced on 20 September 2010 and sought to regularise undocumented Zimbabweans currently residing in South Africa. It also sought to relieve pressure from the Asylum Seeker Management system. When the Project commenced, the Department did not have accurate and reliable data on the number of undocumented Zimbabweans in South Africa which posed a serious challenge for the country and for the migrants as well.
Within the Documentation of Zimbabweans Project, three categories of permits were considered by the Department namely:
Business Permits
Study Permits
Work Permits

Relaxed requirements and shortened processes were implemented in December 2010 to document Zimbabweans with a target date of 31 December 2010, for receiving applications. Those relaxed requirements allowed for applications to be submitted without all the relevant supporting documents and without the taking of fingerprints. During December 2010, applications were also received from the Zimbabwean Consulate, identified NGO’s and the farmers to ensure achievement of the set target date. The deadline of 31 December 2010 was closed with a total number of 275 762 received applications. After 31 December 2010 all applications were dispatched to Head Office regardless of unavailability of supporting documents.

Amongst some of the key issues to be taken forward from the DZP programme the Department listed the re-instatement of the teleconference which would improve compliance issues from Frontline Offices. There would be continuation of the DHA Short Messaging System (SMS) to give notice to Zimbabwean applicants to submit outstanding supporting documentation and fingerprints to permitting with matching of SMS response to the applications and verification/validation of compliance in order to issue permits. A Zimbabwean stakeholder forum meeting was scheduled for the 19 September to mobilise applicants to respond to SMS and to submit outstanding documents and taking fingerprints. Amnesty applications and intention to surrender asylum would receive focused attention. Applicants who applied for Amnesty were contacting the Department to ensure that the Amnesty confirmation forms were completed. Clients whose pre-adjudicated forms have been matched with submitted supporting documents would be issued with Permits.

The Department stated that all incomplete applications dispatched to Head Office were sorted according to the following criteria: 
Applicants who applied using other Zimbabwean identification such as Identity Documents, Birth Certificates, Drivers Licenses or expired Zimbabwean Passports;
Applicants that applied with no supporting documents;
Complete applications with only fingerprints outstanding.

The details of applicants awaiting Zimbabwean Passports and applicants without documents have already been provided electronically to the Zimbabwean Consulate. Discussion with Financial Institutions had taken place in respect of applicants who applied for amnesty. Engagement had also taken place with the Department of Transport on the issue of verifications for Drivers Licenses. That Department should also be provided with access to the online verification database. Development and testing of the DHA Short Messaging System (SMS) had been finalised and activated from 4 April 2011.

The Department had received a total of 275 762 applications for permits under the Dispensation. The DHA had approved and issued 134 369 permits and had pre-adjudicated and check listed 141 393 applications. In lieu of the SMS initiative, the Department had sent out 131 658 text messages to applicants and 43 133 of those contacted had responded with 7 163 applications matched to applications. 6 243 applicants under the Dispensation had applied for amnesty and 49 255 had surrendered their asylum seeker status in applying for permits under the Dispensation. There had been a total of 116 960 incomplete applications received by the Department. 

There were still some phasing-out initiatives which were in progress with the final closing report to be presented to the Minister with a clear direction to be pronounced by her.

Discussion
Ms A Lovemore (DA) asked what role the South African Defence Force (SANDF) was playing in assisting the DHA with the DZP and why they were being used. She asked how long business and work permits issued under the DZP were valid for. She asked whether the DHA had statistics on how many Zimbabweans had opted not to apply for permits under the DZP. She asked what sort of documents had been fraudulent as referred to in the presentation. She asked what the timeframe for the ending of the DZP was. She asked what happened to people who had given up their asylum seeker status in applying for the Dispensation and then were denied a permit under the DZP.

Mr Mkuseli Apleni, Director General: DHA replied that the DHA had integrated SANDF personnel because it was important to promote coordination in government and if the skills needed to do the job could be procured within the government then they would be. The Department was attempting to save money and to prevent backlogs by working with the SANDF. Use of the SANDF also countered the threat of corruption as the Department was less reliant on contract workers who had not undergone vetting. The deadline for receiving applications for the DZP had been 31 December 2010 and the deadline for processing the remaining applications was the end of September 2011. There were no statistics on how many Zimbabweans had failed to apply for the Dispensation outside of the statistics that were in the presentation. The documents which were fraudulent as presented in the briefing varied from ID documents to permits. People who had applied for permits under the Dispensation and subsequently relinquished their claims to asylum status were informed that permits were granted on a merit basis and they applied for those with that understanding.

Mr Monedi replied that the business and work permits granted under the DZP were valid for four years. He reiterated that the documents which were fraudulent were widespread and varied as stated by the DG.

Adv A Gaum (ANC) asked when the DZP would be finished. He asked what the timeline for the amnesty period was in the DZP.

Mr Apleni responded that the deadline for receiving applications for the DZP had been 31 December 2010 and the deadline for processing the remaining applications was the end of September 2011. The amnesty period had also ended at the end of December last year. 

Mr M Mnqasela (DA) asked whether the Department traced illegal immigrants in the country and had a record of how many illegal migrants there were in the country. He raised the issue of two Zimbabwean teachers who were working in a Khayelitsha school and were awaiting work permits; he asked whether the Department had any further information on the issue. He commented that it was important to take into account international conventions when drafting policy on migrants and refugees; he noted the importance of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees to which South Africa was a signatory. 

Mr Apleni replied that the Department did not know how many illegal immigrants were in the country and had no record of them. The Department was working to improve the processes it had in order to be able to monitor people coming into the country and the DZP was part of that effort.

Ms S Rwexana (COPE) asked what the timeframe for the DZP was. She asked who had been responsible for the issuance of fraudulent documents and what could be done to punish the people responsible.

Mr Apleni replied that the deadline for receiving applications for the DZP had been the 31 December 2010 and the deadline for processing the remaining applications was the end of September 2011. Some officials within the Department had been responsible for the issuance of fraudulent documents. Those who were caught were dealt with within the ambit of the law.

The Chairperson sought clarity on the role of the SANDF in the permitting process. She asked whether the Dispensation applied to other immigrants in the country.

Mr Mkuseli Apleni, Director General: DHA replied that the DHA had integrated SANDF personnel because it was important to promote coordination in government and if the skills needed to do the job could be procured within the government then they would be. The Department was attempting to save money and to prevent backlogs by working with the SANDF. Use of the SANDF also countered the threat of corruption as the Department was less reliant on contract workers who had not undergone vetting. The DZP had been solely aimed at Zimbabwean immigrants but other such initiatives may be undertaken by the Department in the near future.

Ms Lovemore asked what the permit stabilisation project noted in the presentation was. She asked whether there were any rejected applications for the Dispensation and why they were not noted in the presentation.

Mr Apleni responded that the permit stabilisation project was an attempt by the Department to centralise permitting so as to control the permitting system and manage it better. The rejected applications would only be reflected after the Dispensation was complete at the end of September and the official figures had been approved by the Minister. The Department would brief the Committee on those figures once the process was complete.

Mr Mnqasela reiterated that UN Conventions should be acknowledged in the creation of policy on migration and the Department needed to comment on the issue. He asked whether the DG thought the Dispensation had been a success in the Department’s view.

Mr Apleni responded that the Department considered the Dispensation a success. The main goal of the project was to provide rights to those Zimbabweans who had been employed in the country but were not granted protections due to their permit status. The people who had applied had gotten a chance at receiving fair treatment and at regularising and legitimising their stay in the country.

Mr Major Kobese, Head of Policy in the Office of the Director General: DHA replied that teh Department was not opposed in principle to the 1951 UN Convention on refugees. The challenge for the Department was ensuring that future policy on migration encompassed human rights and provided protections for the country so that its laws were not abused.
 
Ms G Bothman (ANC) commented that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Dispensation specifically and not to discuss UN Conventions.

Mr Mnqasela reiterated the importance of noting the UN Convention on Refugees.

Ms Lovemore commented that it was important that the Committee and the Department not take on a negative stance towards immigrants as that was detrimental to the work on migration.

Adv Gaum asked whether the Department had received cooperation from Zimbabwean authorities through the Dispensation. He asked whether the Department would have follow-up interviews with applicants under the Dispensation.

Mr Apleni responded that the Department had received cooperation from Zimbabwean authorities both at a Consular level and Ministerial level. The Department would follow-up on people who had applied for permits under the Dispensation and would ensure that what had been stated on applications was true.

Ms N Mnisi (ANC) asked why there had been a low number of permits issued by the Department.

Mr Monedi replied that the low number of issued permits was due to capacity issues and was one of the reasons the DHA had brought in the services of the SANDF.
The Chairperson said that on a recent oversight visit the Committee had been appalled by the situation at the Lesotho border with Maseru, she asked the Department what it was doing to alleviate the situation.

Mr Apleni responded that it was important for the Committee to get firsthand insight into what was happening at posts such as Maseru. The Department was working to stringently enforce the border there and ensure that people entering the country went through the proper channels before doing so.

The meeting was adjourned.


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