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Claims of harassment and intimidation as ZEP case turns ugly

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The fight over the future of Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders, as to whether some 178 000 Zimbabweans will be allowed to live and work in SA, is getting ugly.

On the same day that the Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi announced another extension of the ZEP system – this time until 30 June 2023 – the lawyer representing ZEP holders, Advocate Simba Chitando, said he and his family have been exposed to an unprecedented campaign of intimidation and harassment at the hands of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

Both Chitando and his former wife Nosiphiwo Jodwana say they have gone into hiding, fearing for their safety.

Chitando has come the target of xenophobic attacks on social media for his outspoken views in defence of Zimbabweans in SA, and for arguing that Home Affairs is making a fortune off Zimbabweans, who have had to shell out close to R1 000 for the ZEPs and the predecessor exemption permits, dating back to 2009.

On Friday, two Department of Home Affairs officials visited Jodwana’s place of work in Pretoria and extracted an affidavit, apparently under duress. “There was no warrant of arrest, and at first the officials did not present their official IDs,” says Jodwana. “They implied that my former husband, who is well known to be fighting for the rights of ZEP holders in South Africa, was doing ‘some stuff’ with my ID, without saying what. They said he was under investigation and the implication was that he is doing something illegal. I was told they wanted an affidavit from me, and they coached me in what to say. I was intimidated. I called the Hawks when they took me away because I was scared.”

She was then taken from her place of work in Pretoria to the Garsfontein Police Station in Pretoria for the commissioning of the affidavit. “I was not present when the affidavit was commissioned,” she says. Jodwana was not given a copy of the affidavit she made.

She adds that one of the officials made sexual advances on her and that she is opening a criminal case against the official concerned.

‘I will not step away’

Chitando and his attorney, Sindiso Sibanda, are now planning to bring an urgent cease and desist application before the high court and to have Jodwana’s affidavit declared invalid on the grounds that it was obtained under duress, and was not properly commissioned.

“The Home Affairs strategy appears to be to intimidate me and those close to me, perhaps hoping that I will withdraw my court application, which will be heard in early October,” says Chitando. “This strategy will not work. I will not step away and allow Home Affairs to proceed with their obvious strategy of deporting hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, many of them who have married and have children here, to return home.”

Asked to comment on the above, the DHA responded: “We do not disclose details of our on-going investigations.”

As Moneyweb previously reported, the ZEP system has been in operation in various forms since 2009, allowing Zimbabweans to live, work, study and conduct business in SA. It was introduced to legitimise the status of Zimbabweans in SA, many of whom fled the political and economic chaos in Zim.

Last year Motsoaledi announced the ZEP scheme would be terminated at the end of 2021. He then extended the termination period by a year to December 2022, and now again by another six months – until 30 June 2023.

Motsoaledi’s decision to suspend the scheme is being challenged in three separate court cases brought by the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association (Zepha), and the Zimbabwe Immigration Federation. Chitando is representing one of these groups, Zepha, though he has been particularly outspoken in the media about the likely fate of Zimbabweans in SA.

Read: Zimbabweans at risk of deportation prepare to take on banks, big corporates

“Having extracted close to half a billion rand from Zimbabweans through the various permit schemes introduced since 2009, while claiming it does not have the resources to continue implementing the system, now the department wants to send hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans home.  This will create a crisis for the region the likes of which we have not seen in decades. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

The DHA wants ZEP holders to apply for work visas using the so-called critical skills list, which outlines those skills needed in SA. “I get asked all the time by Zimbabweans whether they should apply for one of these visas, and I answer ‘no, because you will not get one’.

The purpose of suspending the ZEP system is to get rid of Zimbabweans, who most rational people will admit make a huge contribution to this country.

“It’s an attack on minorities, and it will not end with Zimbabweans. Mark my words.”

In 2021, the Legal Practice Council (LPC) issued a statement, noting “with concern the xenophobic attacks on Advocate Simba Chitando who is involved in a court case regarding the issue of Zimbabwean Special Dispensation permits issued by the Department of Home Affairs. The LPC does not condone any xenophobic statements against any of our members.

“The LPC strongly condemns all instances of threats, attacks, hate speech and incitements to violence against anyone based on ethnicity or any other ground. The LPC understands that this is a sensitive issue and encourages the public to allow the court process to run its course through the impartial and transparent judicial processes based on the legal framework provided by the South African laws.”

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