South Africa’s government is withdrawing the special status granted to illegal Zimbabwean immigrants who fled their country’s economic meltdown and political violence, a spokesman said Thursday.
Government spokesman Themba Maseko said South Africa will begin deportations after Dec. 31. The announcement brings to an end an April 2009 amnesty that allowed Zimbabweans to stay in the country without passports and visas.
“After Dec. 31, all undocumented Zimbabweans will be treated like all others and their deportation will resume,” he said.
Zimbabwean and South African rights groups condemned the decision and urged the government to reconsider. They said the move is a blow to the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe.
Maseko also said Zimbabweans working, doing business or studying in South Africa will be given relevant permits. He said those who obtained South African identity books illegally will get amnesty if they return the fraudulent documents.
Daniel Molokele, international co-ordinator for Global Zimbabwe Forum, said deportations would endanger many returning Zimbabweans.