Complaint to the Public Protector regarding Home Affairs’ refusal to extend Zimbabwe documentation deadline

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) jointly and on behalf of a collective of civil society organisations, has submitted a complaint to the Office of the Public Protector over the refusal by the Department of Home Affairs to extend the deadline for new applications to the Zimbabwe Documentation Project.   Although these organisations were hopeful that the Minister of Home Affairs would understand the difficulties and challenges associated with the implementation of the documentation project and allow people to collect the documents necessary in order to apply for the permits, it appears that the Minister has decided not to exercise discretion or reasonableness in the exercise of her public power in order to obtain a successful outcome of this project. 

We are calling on the Minister of Home Affairs to extend the deadline from the first day that the project was announced to us.  Along with other civil society organisations we have been excluded from consultation or engagement with DHA in this area. Despite this exclusion civil society has attempted to assist as many eligible applicants to make applications before the deadline. 

It has become obvious, however, that the deadline will not allow a success of the project.  Difficulties in the implementation of the project has meant that large numbers of currently undocumented people will be unable to access the documents necessary to identify who they are and alleviate their current vulnerability.  These include:

  • The absence of clear information and transparency about the process to the Zimbabwean community as well as to civil society organisations that have an interest in and expertise on this issue;
  • Inconsistent application of the project at various Home Affairs offices which has resulted in individuals being turned away or rejected for not producing documents that were not initially requested, e.g., certified copies of company registration papers and tax clearance certificates (where the application forms only asked for company registration numbers and tax numbers).
  • Many rejected persons are not being advised of how they may appeal or remedy their application if certain documents are missing.
  • Dependency on the ability of the Zimbabwe government to issue birth certificates and passports to the hundreds of thousands of its nationals within a three month period.
  • The DHA’s adamant refusal to consider extending the deadline on the process without providing any reasonable explanation for this refusal or a rational reason for choosing 31 December 2010;
  • The failure to consult with civil society and service providers in the conception of the project, including assertions by top DHA officials that they “only have to negotiate with the Government of Zimbabwe”.
  • The absence of any guidelines or procedures on how to assist unaccompanied children to apply for study permits.

In view of the above examples, the State must accept this project will not achieve the objectives and purposes of the project unless the deadline is extended.

Civil society is calling on the Public Protector to intervene with the Minister of Home Affairs and departmental officials to ensure that this project is in fact capable of achieving its stated aims and objectives and for the Public Protector to address the following with the Minister:

  1. To review the 31 December 2010 deadline and make it clear whether those applicants who have been preparing their applications by collecting the required documents will be able to apply even after the 31 December 2010 deadline;
  2. To clarify whether those persons who gave up their asylum permits and whose applications were subsequently rejected will be able to appeal this rejection or return to the asylum process;
  3. To consider the current political situation in Zimbabwe before resuming mass deportations to that country;
  4. To extend the moratorium on deportations for as long as people are still lodging applications
  5. To ensure that children are not deported and that they are treated in accordance with the Children’s Act.
  6. To make information around access to this process publicly available

We are concerned that the extremely short timeframes for such a large project is not used as a smokescreen for restarting the policy of large-scale deportations.  From our experience, such deportations not only result in widespread violation of rights, but are a massive waste of public money and resources.  In the 2008/2009 period approximately 300,000 Zimbabweans were deported and this deportation was not effective in reducing the numbers of Zimbabweans in the county nor did it deter new entries. In 2007 an average of 17 000 persons were deported to Zimbabwe each month. We are concerned that a new detention facility in Musina which has been built over the last few years will become operational once the deadline has been reached. 

A press conference will be held at the Devonshire Hotel on Friday 10 December 2010 at 10am.  It is of particular importance that this day marks International Human Rights Day.  We continue to call on government to reconsider this matter and abide by its obligations under international law and the Constitution. 

The following organisations have endorsed the request to the Public Protector (in alphabetical order):

1.     African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS - formerly Forced Migration Studies Programme)

2.     Black Sash Trust

3.     Centre for Child Law, University of Pretoria

4.     Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)

5.     Coordinating Body for the Refugee Community (CBRC)

6.     Community Media Trust

7.     Lawyers for Human Rights

8.     Movement for Democratic Change (SA External Assembly)

9.     Musina Legal Advice Office

10. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Law Clinic



13. Refugee Ministries Centre

14.  Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town

15. Section 27 Incorporating the Aids Law Project

16.  Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)

17. Treatment Action Campaign

18. University of Witwatersrand Law Clinic

19. Zimbabwe Political Victims Association (ZIPOVA)


For more information, please contact:

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh                                      

Lawyers for Human Rights