Advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi, a South African lawyer representing holders of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP), has argued before a full bench in the Pretoria High Court that his clients will face irreparable harm if the Department of Home Affairs discontinues the ZEP programme. Ngcukaitobi is representing 1,000 Zimbabwean nationals under the Zimbabwean Immigration Federation (ZIF) in their challenge against the decision to terminate the ZEP scheme.
Ngcukaitobi highlighted that the termination of the ZEP programme would render the 178,000 recipients of the permit as illegal immigrants in South Africa overnight, subject to arrest and forced deportation after June 30, 2023. He further stated that returning to Zimbabwe voluntarily is not feasible for many of them due to various reasons that will be articulated, leaving them vulnerable to forced deportation or arrest for violating the provisions of the Act.
The ZEP programme was introduced in 2009 as the Dispensation of Zimbabwean Permit (DZP) to legalize Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa who had crossed the border seeking better economic opportunities after the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy in 2008. It was later renamed the Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) in 2014, and then the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) three years later. In September 2022, the Department of Home Affairs extended the permit, which was originally due to expire on December 31, for an additional six months until June 30, 2023.