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South Africa - Zimbabwe

South Africa calls time on undocumented Zimbabweans

As many as two million Zimbabweans live and work undocumented in South Africa.
As many as two million Zimbabweans live and work undocumented in South Africa. AFP/François-Xavier Marit

South Africa has come under fire from human rights groups for ending the special dispensation for undocumented Zimbabweans living and working on within its borders. Campaigners fear the move will lead to mass deportations and even loss of life.

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There’s no official figure for the number of Zimbabweans living in South Africa.

It’s reckoned to be at least two million – that’s a sixth of the population of its troubled northern neighbour.

Zimbabwean migrants – sometimes thousands a day – flocked over the Limpopo River when the South African government said they were allowed to live, work and go to school or hospital in the country without official documentation.

But now South Africa's cabinet has announced that as of 31 December this year, the special dispensation will end, for reasons of regional security.

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum says South Africa’s betraying the trust of people escaping persecution.

It accuses the ANC government of using Zimbabweans as cheap labour for the football World Cup.

The Global Zimbabwe Forum says people could be killed if they go home.

South Africa’s Lawyers for Human Rights and the Jesuit Refugee Service fear Pretoria’s decision will lead to mass deportations, as many people cannot afford to pay for the documentation .

But Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mampoepa assured Zimbabweans in South Africa that they wouldn’t have to go home.

They’ll be able to obtain legal documents from Zimbabwe’s consultates in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

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