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LETTER | SA’s termination of Zimbabwean Exemption Permits a political play bound to fail

Decision an attempt to appease voters before the 2024 elections

29 July 2022 - 07:32 By NOTHANDO PHUTI
Zimbabwean nationals return to SA through the Beitbridge border post. File photo
Zimbabwean nationals return to SA through the Beitbridge border post. File photo
Image: Sunday Times/Esa Alexander

Cabinet’s intention to terminate the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) for about 200,000 Zimbabweans living and working in SA has received many reactions on the moral and international legal implications this sudden decision will have.

Some civil organisations have deplored the decision as being based on political and economic pressure on government from vigilante groups like Operation Dudula and the grand losses experienced by the ANC in the last local elections.

This rushed decision appears to be an attempt at job reservation to appease voters before the 2024 elections, and history will prove this move economically unviable.

The Helen Suzman Foundation has always maintained “SA’s foreign policy is alarmingly unpredictable, often being at odds with the department of international relations and cooperation’s stated objectives”, and has since launched court action at the high court based on, among other things, a lack of public consultation processes and an infringement of the constitutional rights of ZEP-holders and their children by the minister of home affairs.

For an industry with the most concentration of migrant workers, this sudden stance is highly concerning to employers trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure argues that services offered in the hospitality sector are unique in that they require a differentiated professional set of skills, and employers in the hospitality sector have always struggled to fill the skills gap because of a skills shortage resulting from structural challenges in education investment and skills development in SA.

The granting of the special permits coincided with the 2010 World Cup to bring relief to the construction and hospitality sectors which needed low-skilled labour. Desperate but relatively educated Zimbabweans fleeing the Zimbabwean crisis have, for more than a decade, filled this gap and attained specialised skills in a historically low skill industry.

With all the court cases against this decision, calls are being made to grant a 12-month extension for migrant hospitality industry workers to allow businesses to establish a well-structured skills transfer process. Failure to allow for a sustainable strategy to transfer skills will further negatively affect an already struggling industry.

Nothando PhutiSA Equity for Workers Association

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