Thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa are trying to legalize their stay before Friday. The South African government says after this deadline it will begin deporting Zimbabweans without documents but those who can prove they have begun the registration process will not be expelled.
Large crowds of Zimbabweans were lined up outside South African Home Affairs offices on the eve of the expiration of a special dispensation (exception) that for the past 18 months had allowed them to work without documents in South Africa.
An estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans are living in South Africa, many of them illegally. Some say they fled repression and human rights abuses in their country. Others say they came looking for jobs after years of economic decline in Zimbabwe.
The South African government says they should return home because the situation in Zimbabwe has stabilized since the creation of a power sharing government two years ago.
The government announced the registration program in September saying it would begin deporting Zimbabweans without documents after December 31st.
Human rights activists urged it to extend the deadline saying there was not enough time to process all the applications.
Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma responded saying there would be no extension of the deadline but people with receipts proving that they had applied for the work permit or their Zimbabwean passport would be spared. “There will be no deportation until we have finished processing everything that we would have received including waiting for those people who are waiting for their passports,” Dlamini-Zuma said.