Some Zimbabwean teachers in the Western Cape have gone unpaid for as long as nine months because Home Affairs is dragging its feet when it comes to verifying Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP).
“Our problem, however, is that Home Affairs takes their time to verify these [ZEP] work permits. We follow up on numerous occasions,” said Bronagh Hammond, spokesperson for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).
“Home Affairs has confirmed that they are inundated with permit verification. Even if the work permit is barcoded it still needs to be verified. The WCED does sympathise. It is unfair to those educators with valid permits to wait so long. The WCED, however, has to abide by the law,” said Hammond.
Verification is a requirement set by Home Affairs. She said failure to verify a permit, which may later be found to be fraudulent, could result in WCED officials or school principals paying a hefty fine or facing imprisonment. She said Home Affairs had found fraudulent permits.
Jack Mutsvairo, chairperson of the Union of Zimbabwean Educators Western Cape, established in 2016, said the union has 50 members and a WhatsApp group of 200 teachers.
Mutsvairo said the union is irritated by the verification process. “If banks take less than a week to do it, why is the WCED taking months?”
“Some of the Zimbabwean teachers, who come to us claiming they haven’t been paid for between three to nine months, tell sad stories,” said Mutsvairo. Some, he said, have got into debt borrowing money for rent, food and their children’s school fees.
He said some teachers suffering from delays did not engage the union as they feared victimisation if they spoke out about being unpaid.
A man who teaches mathematics and physical science for grades 11 and 12, said he has been without a paycheck since January, awaiting his ZEP. On 3 August he collected his permit and submitted it to the department, but he was still not paid as the department awaited Home Affairs to verify the permit.
On Tuesday, Hammond told GroundUp his permit had been verified and his outstanding salary will be in his account by the end of the week.
Home Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.