SA court upholds rights of Zimbabwean nationals in permit ruling

South Africa’s Constitutional Court upheld a ruling preventing the cancellation of residence and work permits for Zimbabwean nationals, dismissing the government’s appeal. The decision affirms the need for public consultation on permit policies, sparing 178,000 Zimbabweans from deportation amid ongoing legal challenges and permit extensions until 2025.

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By Ray Ndlovu*

South Africa’s top court dismissed an appeal by the government against a ruling that barred the authorities from canceling residence and work permits for Zimbabwean nationals.

The Department of Home Affairs had sought to overturn a judgment by the Pretoria High Court in June 2023 that prevented officials from arresting and deporting holders of the so-called Zimbabwe Exemption Permits should they not have valid exemption certificates.

Read more: Kokkie Kooyman: SA dodged an 80% Zimbabwe-headed bullet; hasn’t quite sunk in for investors

The application “bears no reasonable prospects of success,” the Constitutional Court said in a June 18 ruling. 

The Helen Suzman Foundation, a South African civil-rights group, first challenged the department’s decision to cancel the permits two years ago on the grounds that there were no public consultations on the matter. The cancellation of the permits would have forced at least 178,000 Zimbabwean nationals to return home.

The Constitutional Court’s order “affirms with finality” that the minister must follow the basic duty of public consultation, Naseema Fakir, the executive director at the Johannesburg-based foundation, said in a statement.  

“It is a vital affirmation for ZEP holders and South African citizens alike that principles of fair hearing and rational government are indispensable to our constitutional democracy,” she said.

In December, the South African government announced it had extended the exemption permits for Zimbabwean and Lesotho immigrants by two years until Nov. 29, 2025.

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