South Africa ends Zimbabwe visa scheme

SOUTH Africa has ended a programme to provide visas for more than a million undocumented immigrants who fled political and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe, setting the stage for a possible mass deportation.

But a large-scale round-up of migrants looks unlikely because of the high cost for South Africa and the risk to Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe - who wants to hold elections this year - of re-admitting migrants who largely support his opponents. The migrants also provide hard currency through remittances that supports Zimbabwe's shaky economy.

South African home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said yesterday that immigration laws "will not target Zimbabweans".

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But home affairs deputy director general Jackie McKay told media last month: "Anyone who is found in South Africa without legal documents to remain in the country will be deported."

The ministry said about 275,000 Zimbabweans had filed paperwork to normalise their stay under the programme that ended on 31 July. Immigration experts estimate there could be as many as two million Zimbabweans in South Africa.