SOUTH African Home Affairs officials at the Verification Visa Centres are allegedly demanding bribes from desperate Zimbabweans seeking to submit applications to regularise their stay in the neighbouring country beyond the expiry of their Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) whose grace period has been extended to December 2023.
The official submission fee for ZEP waivers is R1 550, which is deposited into the bank account of the respective Verification Visa Centres.
The money is paid before one physically visits the centres to submit hard copies of the ZEP waiver applications. However, Home Affairs officials at these centres are demanding extra cash of about R1 000 upon arrival of applicants as a pre-condition for accepting their applications.
Outside the visa offices, proxies of these officials are also charging as much as R500 as facilitation fee for them to speed up the process by assisting people to jump queues.
Between May and June this year, The African Diaspora Forum (ADF), an organisation representing African migrant communities living in South Africa, has written two letters of complaint to South African authorities over the matter.
The first letter of complaint was dated 2 May 2023 signed by ADF executive director Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena and addressed to South Africa’s Verification Visa Centre senior manager for Pretoria, Deenanath Kavish.
Part of the letter by Mabhena, who is also the chairperson for the Zimbabweans living in South African communities, reads: “We are receiving complaints on daily basis from ZEP holders who are applying for waivers through the Vfs (Verification Visa Centre) Pretoria office.
An applicant pays R1 550.00 to the Vfs bank account before they are given a slot to submit their application.
“On arrival, it is alleged that some officials demand payment of up to R1 500 for one to skip the queue, meaning a person meant to submit at 10:00am only submits in the evening if they fail to pay the money demanded by officials.
“We seek clarity from your good office if this is how Vfs operates. Assuming this is how it operates, why do you not ask applicants to pay the money direct to the bank as many go to your offices unaware of the extra charge? We hope to hear from you as soon as possible as this is causing confusion on our members.”
In another letter dated 1 June 2023 addressed to department of Home Affairs director-general Livhuwani Tommy Makhode, ADF chairperson Amir Sheik also questioned the payment of R500 at some VFS centres.
“While the Vfs charges R1 550 for a waiver application, it took it time to communicate the extra R500 fee known as the ‘Premium Lodge’.
“According to Vfs management, an applicant who resides say in Gauteng, can book in George Vfs but submit in Rivonia upon the payment of R500. The R500 appears to be a bribe to Vfs officials as it was not properly explained,” wrote Sheik.
In an interview with The NewsHawks from his base in South Africa, Mabhena said the corruption at the Vfs offices was coordinated.
“It’s a syndicate that operates from the of[fices of the Vfs. There is a lot of corruption going on mainly in Rivonia and Pretoria. This is what we are concerned about and we have been raising it with the management of Vfs. It appears this syndicate works with some officials inside Vfs. This is why on the second of May we wrote to the Vfs seeking clarity on the extra charges,” he said.
About 178 000 are understood to be ZEP holders in South Africa. South Africa last week extended the grace period to December. It was after ADF petitioned the government arguing ZEP holders must be given until December to seek alternative visas that extend their stay in the neighbouring country.
ADF said when the South African cabinet announced on 25 November 2021 that it will not renew Zimbabwe Exemption Permits, some holders applied for waivers to move to other visas as per the cabinet directive.
The organisation said most of those individuals had their waivers rejected.
Makhode wrote to them recalling the rejections. Most ZEP holders are domestic workers, people in the construction sector, drivers, those who work in supermarkets like Pick n Pay, educators, lawyers, journalists, artisans and generally those whose skills are not deemed critical.
Before the extension to December 2023, civil rights organisations in South Africa had also requested the department of Home Affairs to extend the deadline, warning that this was creating uncertainty for thousands of Zimbabweans in the country.
Global South Against Xenophobia (GSAX) and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) said the cancellation of the ZEP would cause enormous stress on the affected and was unfair.
Chairperson of the African Diaspora Workers Network Janet Munakamwe told South African media this week that cancelling the permits by 30 June would affect not only the holders but also their families.