My dear Minister
In the days following Christmas, Christians read how the child Jesus and his family were forced to flee their home and take refuge in a neighbouring country. This year, as I have seen on television the long queues of Zimbabweans waiting to register their presence in our country, this biblical account has held fresh resonances for me, and prompted me to write to you. I trust that my words will find an empathetic response from you, who have yourself experienced exile and were fortunate enough to find welcome in a foreign place.
I want to begin by commending you and the staff at the Department of Home Affairs, for making such efforts to ensure that as many Zimbabweans as possible complete the registration process before the end of year deadline. It is a vast undertaking, which has been tackled with great commitment. Yet I am also aware that because of the very great numbers, because of the need to apply when people can take time off work, and because many have faced problems in obtaining Zimbabwean papers, there are great fears that, for reasons largely beyond their control, not all will be able to complete the process timeously.
The government has of course made it clear that there can be no repeated extensions of the deadline, for those who continue to fail to get their act together. But my great concern is that no-one who is wanting and attempting to normalise their presence in our country should be penalised because of capacity constraints or delays that are not of their own making. My particular plea is for the deadline to be implemented with true humanity that allows for elastic interpretation across a transitional period of grace – perhaps as much as another 90 days – so that all who are striving to lodge their registration may be enabled to do so.
Alongside this, may I ask for continuing careful, comprehensive, public communication, not only aimed at the Zimbabweans themselves, but also to us, the South Africans among whom they live. In particular, we should all be informed clearly about what is to happen from the stroke of Friday midnight onwards. What are the next stages of the processes underway? What is the situation for those who have not completed registration – or who have failed, for whatever reason, to attempt it? What will happen to those who do not quality for permission to remain in South Africa? Clarity in all these areas is necessary, both for the greatest peace of mind of those directly concerned, and for easing good community relations.
What matters most is that throughout the period ahead, true humanitarian standards are upheld. Every individual must be treated – and feel themselves treated – with dignity and respect. Though I ask for gracious magnanimity in the processing of applications, I know that some will not be granted permission to remain here. We stand to be judged – but also have the opportunity to demonstrate best practice to others – on how we handle these cases, and particularly the enforcement of repatriations where these are necessary. I am assuming that you are in close and continuing contact with your Zimbabwean counterpart to ensure coordinated arrangements, should forced repatriations need to be made.
None of these tasks are easy, so let me assure you and your staff, of my own continuing prayers, and those of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, as you implement policies that have such potentially far-reaching impact on the lives of individuals – many who have suffered so much through the recent troubled history of Zimbabwe. In releasing this letter to the public, I invite all South Africans of faith to join me in these prayers, and in praying for a just and lasting solution to Zimbabwe’s political turmoil. May South Africa, through our government, not shirk the opportunities we have to promote peace and prosperity at this time of year – so that God’s promises of peace and goodwill may be truly known by all.
Yours in the service of Christ
+ Thabo Cape Town