On the 8th of July of 2017 the Minister of Home Affairs announced that the almost 1800 former Angolan Refugees who had been on the Angolan Cessation Permit (ACP) had been granted their permanent resident Exemption applications for a period of 4 years. Thus giving relief to almost 1800 Angolans who have been residing in South Africa as refugees for over 20 years but had faced deportation when their permits had not been renewed in 2012 – 2013. This move has resonated with the Zimbabweans who are on a similar dispensation permit that this may be a likely eventuality. In this article we take a look at the ACP and compare it to the ZSP and offer an opinion on the possibility of the Angolan situation being used as a template for Zimbabweans whose deadline is coming on at the end of this year.
The phenomenon of the dispensation permit did not start with the Zimbabweans but with the Angolans. In 2008-2009 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees announced that the conflict in Angola had ended and that countries were free to begin repatriation of Angolans who had been refugees in their respective territories. In South Africa, The Department of Home Affairs rolled out the Angolan cessation permit (ACP) which sought to be a bridge enabling the former Angolan refugees to be repatriated to their home country. Many of the Angolans who fled the civil war did not have any documentation identifying them as Angolans. As such to facilitate the documentation of these individuals the Department issued the Angolan dispensation permit. The characteristics are very similar to the DZP and ZSP permits, the ACP seems to have been the blueprint for all the subsequent dispensation permits.
At the end of the ACP the Department was adamant that the permits would not be renewed. This presented a challenge for the Angolans who had taken up the ACP as they faced possible deportation. Many of whom had been born in South Africa and had no ties to their native home Angola. A high court application ensued supported by the Scalabrini Center and other Civic groups who brought the application to the Cape High Court challenging the refusal of the Department. Central to their arguments was the fact that many of the Angolans who had fled the civil war had no homes or families to go back to. Their families had been torn apart by the civil war to an extent where the remaining relatives in Angola no longer viewed them as family members. These Angolans also could not speak any of the native languages of Angola but could only speak the one or more of the South African official languages. None of them had ever gone back to Angola over the more than 20 year period that they had resided in South Africa as Refugees. They had firmly established themselves in South Africa. They had for all intents and purposes become South Africans in all aspects except their status documents.
In an order by agreement handed down by the court on the 17th of November 2016 ,it was agreed that every Angolan on the expired ACP had to lodge an application for a Permanent Residence Exemption in terms section 31(2)(b) of the Act. The announcement on the 8th of July is a culmination of this process.
Now that the lengthy background is out for the way, we can delve into the important highlights of this matter.
There are few points that distinguish the Angolans from the Zimbabwean. The circumstances which led to the Angolans leaving their country. Angola was ravaged by war for many years. Many had their homes destroyed and families torn apart. There are stories of children arriving in South Africa having lost both parents along the journey. In essence there was no home to go back to after 20 years. Even armed with the ACP very few Angolans made the trip back home. South Africa was their home. They spoke only South African languages and had no family ties in Angola. But even under these extreme circumstances the Department of Home Affairs was not willing to see reason which resulted in a legal application.
The numbers were also in their favour. The total number of applicants was much smaller, under 1800 whereas the Zimbabweans are north of 250 000.
Another important point is that despite the history of the Angolans and the High court application, the Department of Home Affairs required each Angolan to show that exceptional circumstances existed that warranted the granting of the rights of a permanent residence. It was not a free for all and it is limited to four years.
Assuming that the Department of Home Affairs follows the same path each Zimbabwean will have to show that exceptional circumstances exist when applying for an exemption. The term exceptional circumstances refers to factors that distinguish the applicant from every other person and to say that you have resided in South Africa for 8 years doesn’t make for exceptional circumstances. One would have to show their contribution to the broader Society in addition to other factors.
In all likelihood I believe that there will be some sort of relief at the end of the tunnel but the nature of this relief is yet to be seen. I do not think it will be a free for all but a limited scope. There are one of three possible outcomes, a renewal of the permits for another period with similar or more restrictions , An exemption process like the Angolan project or no renewal. Either way we will soon find out.
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