Zimbabwean prisoners want to be paroled and repatriated
The release of Zimbabwean prisoners in South Africa appears to be supported by both governments.
A campaign has kicked off to repatriate thousands of Zimbabwean prisoners eligible for parole.
A letter sent by attorneys representing the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Holders Association (Zepha) to the ministers of Home Affairs and Justice and Correctional Services demands action to facilitate the release and repatriation of Zimbabwean prisoners eligible for parole by Tuesday (23 May), failing which the matter will be taken to court.
“The release of Zimbabwean prisoners eligible for parole is within the interests of justice and would save taxpayer money,” say Zepha’s attorneys.
“Our instructions are to request that your respective departments work with the Zimbabwean Embassy in processing Zimbabwean prisoners in South Africa eligible for parole to be released and repatriated to Zimbabwe.”
Among the reasons for launching the campaign to repatriate Zimbabwean prisoners is “widespread institutionalised xenophobia”, says Advocate Simba Chitando, who is also representing Zepha.
“As inmates they are especially vulnerable to cruel and degrading treatment because of their nationality,” says Chitando.
“They’ve had their goods stolen, [been] denied meals, refused blankets, and are regularly assaulted by both prison officials and South African inmates.
“In one specific case a Zimbabwean inmate who has served six years in prison for stealing a cellphone, who would be out on parole if he was South African, has never met his child born just after he was arrested.”
The release of the Zimbabwean prisoners seems to be supported by both the Zimbabwean and South African government.
The latter is on record saying it does not want Zimbabwean criminals in South Africa, yet it appears to have done little to facilitate the release of those eligible for parole.
The Zimbabwean government has set up a programme to assist Zimbabweans who want to return home through its consular offices in SA.
The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), which allows Zimbabweans to live and work in SA, expires at the end of June.
It is however the subject of several court challenges seeking to set the expiry aside.
Should the termination of the ZEP programme go ahead, some 178 000 permit holders will have to apply for alternative visas, leave voluntarily, or face deportation. Zepha says this would create a humanitarian crisis for the region, as ZEP holders and their families face returning to a country that is ill-equipped to absorb this number of people.
Dudula News reports that Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is proposing the repeal of three pieces of legislation: the Immigration Act, the SA Citizenship Act and the Refugees Act. A new law to be introduced aims to deal with court challenges brought by migrants when litigating laws of the country, he is reported as saying.
Many Zimbabwean prisoners in SA are disqualified from applying for a visa or a permit because they have previous convictions.
Others have visas and permits that have lapsed while in prison. Chitando says this leaves them in a legal no-man’s land.
“It would be far better to release those eligible for parole and allow them to return to Zimbabwe. Quite apart from the money it would save Correctional Services, it would also solve the issue of expired permits.
“Instead of dealing with the burgeoning number of Zimbabwean inmates, the South African government has targeted law abiding, gainfully employed, productive ZEP holders, and other Zimbabwean nationals in SA.”
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