Some 250 000 holders of the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit (ZSP), who are among millions that have fled economic and political crises to the neighbouring South Africa, are in panic mode.
The Department of Home Affairs recently extended the deadline for applications to the end of January.
This will pave way for the issuing of the new Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP).
As the expiry of the current permits ended on the 31st of December 2017, is is alleged that the freezing of accounts by South African banks pending the issuance of new permits was imminent.
Hordes of Zimbabwean clients banking with ABSA, Capitec, First National Bank (FNB), Nedbank and Standard Bank confirmed receiving notifications to renew their permits lest their accounts were frozen.
“I was warned to bring new documents before the December 31 expiry date. After receiving this message, I promptly rushed to the bank hall to verify. Officials plainly told me they would freeze it if no permit was received,” said Mlungisi Ndebele of Alexandra township north of Johannesburg.
A Zimbabwean client with the same bank raised similar concerns.
“Now that some of our accounts have been frozen, they have skinned us alive! I have kept all the money for my three-year savings with the intention to purchase a car and a house,” said a zimbabwean account holder, who declined to be named.
Advocate Gabriel Shumba, executive director of Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), said freezing or suspension of ZSP permit holders’ accounts on December 31 is “highly regrettable.”
“It is insensitive for banks to freeze accounts pending the adjudication process,” Shumba said.
He said such would be “highly provocative” arguing the banks in question were usually too happy to entice these vulnerable group of the Zimbabwean populace.
“To freeze the accounts seems to make the predetermination statement that those who have applied will not succeed. It is the customers’ money and they are entitled to fair practice. Why did these rogue and uncaring banks make an announcement beforehand, asking our people to retrieve their savings beforehand?,” Shumba asked.
He called upon affected permit holders to contact ZEF.
“Enough is enough. These exploitative practices go unchecked in respect of asylum seekers and refugees too. We need immediate government regulation of these and other malpractices,” Shumba, who is also Gauteng High Court Counsel, said.
Ngqabutho Mabhena, Chairman of Zimbabweans Living in South Africa, said they had engaged the Department of Home Affairs, which he said pledged to engage the banks to redress the issue.
“Initially, some banks sent out notices saying they will close down bank accounts on December 31 if their clients who are on special permits do not submit new permits,” Mabhena said.
He advocated for banks to notify and give clients a grace period up to January 31 when applications for permits close.
“We will continue to engage with the banks through the Department of Home Affairs,” Mabhena assured.
Luke Dzipange Zunga, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Global Forum, said the organisation was aware some members had received “threatening notifications” from banks intending to suspend their accounts if their work or study permits were not renewed by December 31.
He however, pointed out some ministerial changes as well as the suspension and reinstatement of Home Affairs Director-General, Mkhuseli, Apleni, had impacted on the status of the Zimbabwean permit holders.
There were two ministerial changes last year as Hlengiwe Mkhize replaced Malusi Gigaba in a cabinet reshuffle in March. Ayanda Dlodlo would later replace her in another reshuffle in October.
Zunga added Apleni was in between the reshuffles suspended.
“What is important to highlight these threats paused by the bank letters so that Department of Home Affairs quicken the process renewing the permits. The DG (director general), who was in charge at the start and running of this Zimbabwe Special Permits dispensation had been suspended and only won his case and returned to work recently,” Zunga said.
He said this could be among the reasons behind the delay in finalising the renewal of the permits.
“Highlighting the plight of these Zimbabweans affected is important so that the process is pushed faster at Home Affairs. Banks would say they are following the law. If the permits are not renewed the accounts would be closed,” Zunga said.
He called Zimbabweans to remain “composed” as the Department of Home Affairs, through VFS, were processing their renewed permits.