SA 'will not extend' Zimbabwean document drive

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs will not extend the documentation exercise for Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa, an official in the department has said.

In May 2009 South Africa suspended the deportation of undocumented Zimbabweans and later introduced a special dispensation under which Zimbabwean nationals were given an opportunity to regularise their stay in South Africa and apply for work, business and study permits.

South Africa initially set a December 2010 deadline but later extended it to July 2011 after Zimbabwean officials complained that they could not meet the demand for passports from applicants — which were a requirement needed before applications for the South African permit could be processed.

Spokesman Lunga Nqengelele recently ruled out the possibility of the Department of Home Affairs extending the deadline, following intimations that the Zimbabwean government was keen to engage South Africa on the matter.

Kembo Mohadi, one of Zimbabwe’s two home affairs ministers, is pushing for South Africa to extend the deadline that lapsed at the end of July 2011.

"Engagements will continue because this is not a one-off thing. A lot of our people continue to cross the border into South Africa without proper travel documents and it is something that happens every day", Mr Mohadi said.

But Mr Nqengelele ruled out any chances of a moratorium and said, "There is no indication of extending the exercise at all. It has been completed."

There are about 2-million Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa and the latest figures from the department show only 275,762 people had regularised their stay under the facility.

Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst based at the Johannesburg offices of the International Crisis Group, has said that despite South Africa insisting it will not extend the documentation process, the political instability in Zimbabwe could fuel an increase in border-jumping.

"It’s a case of closing the back door while leaving the front door open … the situation in Zimbabwe keeps feeding more people into South Africa," Mr Maisiri said.

"Until Zimbabwe has levels of political stability and economic recovery, the regularisation exercise will continue to face challenges as more people will illegally cross the borders."