Much of my time during the last few weeks of work has been consumed with ZSP appeals. As I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts, the ZSP program (which stands for Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit) is a special program that allows Zimbabweans to live and work in the country. It was preceded by the DZP system, a program implemented in 2010 (with a narrow window for applications), as a way to document the hundreds of thousands of undocumented Zimbabweans in South Africa at the time. The DZP program was set to wrap up in 2015, and at the end of 2014 the government decided it would implement the ZSP program which would essentially give people a three year extension in the country. To apply for the new permit people had to provide a copy of their passport, a letter of employment or a copy of their business registration, and had to pay a fee of R870 (the equivalent of about $70). People were told that as long as they had their file number from the original DZP application (whether they actually received a permit or not), they would be able to apply for a ZSP. However, when Home Affairs started notifying people about the ZSPs, it turns out that anyone who had not previously received a DZP was categorically rejected for the new permit. This was one of the most frequent causes of rejection. The other major reason for rejection had to do with a negative police clearance. During the application process, Home Affairs made clear that anyone convicted of a crime would not be eligible for the new permits, with the language of the law specifying “anyone with previous criminal convictions without the option of a fine.” However, Home Affairs relied on the police fingerprint database to check applicants’ fingerprints, and rather than flagging only those who had been convicted of a crime, it flagged anyone who had ever been arrested. So a number of people who had been arrested and either had their cases dropped or who had paid a nominal fine instead of going to court, came into our office seeking assistance.
Home Affairs originally envisioned the ZSP program as an unappealable process, but it quickly became clear that many errors were made in issuing the permits, and they eventually agreed to review all rejections. However, it took quite a while for us to get this information, and to find out what they would require for the appeals and when they would begin processing them. We finally received word that they would begin accepting appeals, or as they like to call it “requests for review,” during the second week of August. In anticipation of the pending wave of appeals we would be faced with, we reached out to Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), an organization that had started doing appeals for ZSP applicants in Jo’burg and Pretoria. After consulting with them about the process, they sent us examples of a couple of appeals they had drafted, so we could get a sense of what we might want to put in ours. Without much guidance from the government as to what information should be included, we had to anticipate what they would want to know. The ZSP appeals somehow became my project (with all of the decision making, delegating, interviewing, and drafting left in my hands), so I set to work tackling this somewhat behemoth of a task.
I reviewed the (rather lengthy) appeals that LHR had sent us, and started coming up with a list of questions to which we would need answers from each of the people who came to our office seeking assistance. When people had come in previously, we had just taken a copy of their rejection letter and their telephone number. Now it became clear that we would need to interview each of those people (much as we would for an appeal for asylum), and gather supporting documentation that we could attach to the appeal, which meant we were left making at least 200 phone calls asking people to come back in. We also needed to start doing more thorough interviews of everyone coming into the office going forward, so as to not make them have to come back at a later date.
This whole process is incredibly time consuming, as we need to call everyone (as well as deal with the daily walk-ins), interview everyone, write all of their appeals, and send each appeal individually to five different people. And as one of my frustrations with the office has been lack of organization—there are no client files to speak of—I am ensuring that the filing system is pristine—creating an electronic file for each of the clients on my computer and putting in their interview form, any supporting documents that they brought in, the draft of the appeal, and the final product that is being submitted to Home Affair. There has to be some order to this madness. As I am the only intern with a legal background, and the couple of full time staff members are not involved with this, I first set about coming up with a standard list of questions to ask each client so that my fellow interns could help with some of the interviews. I was then left to draft sample appeals for each of the different scenarios so that the other interns could just fill them in. I would draft the first appeal in each category and then highlight all of the information that they would need to change for each client.
Though some of the other interns have been incredibly helpful with doing the interviews and working on some of the appeals, as 1) I am the most familiar with the appeal form since I drafted it, 2) am the only one with a legal background, and 3) am the only native English speaker in the group, I am having to review every single appeal that is done, as well as draft my own. It is taking an incredible amount of time, which isn’t helped by the constant interruptions of other office work that needs to be done, and I am concerned about how all of this will get done by the time I leave. Most likely it will not, which means having to come up with a plan going forward.
While I really appreciate the challenge this has presented in terms of running with this project on my own, and while I enjoy the interactions with the clients for the most part (though it at times is challenging to remain neutral when a client tells you how they have been arrested for beating their wife on multiple occasions, but since they were never convicted they should be allowed to stay in the country), the office really needs more full time staff to manage the workload.
On a separate, unrelated note, here are some photos of PASSOP staff and clients at a recent office event. The office held a memorial for one of the staff members who passed away a couple of months ago, and took the opportunity to give away clothing donations to clients in need.