JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Strict new South African immigration laws have sparked confusion and panic among foreign residents in this “gateway to Africa” and forced 250,000 Zimbabweans to decide whether to return home.
Walk down most streets in Johannesburg and you will hear accents and languages from across this vast African continent.
Builders by the roadside waiting for work chatter away in the sweet sing-song rhythm of African Portuguese; waiters stand and gossip between orders, employing the rolling and whistles that mark out Shona, a language of Zimbabwe and southern Zambia.
Congolese, Somalis, Nigerians, Mozambicans and above all Zimbabweans, flock to the “City of Gold” in search of their own little slice of the riches of the Highveld, as the surrounding region is known.
Since the 1880s, when Johannesburg exploded to life with the discovery of vast gold deposits, this has been a city, and a country, of immigrants.
Shosholoza, perhaps South Africa’s most beloved song – belted out at sporting events, political rallies and anywhere more than a handful of people gather – originally came from the Zimbabwean workers making the train journey south to work the mines.
But today the South African authorities, wary of the inflow amid brutally high unemployment, have begun tightening visa regulations and closing loopholes.
New rules quickly snapped into force shortly after the country’s May election, catching scores of expatriate workers off guard.
There are fears the new rules may hit the vital tourist industry. Immigration consultants have lodged a slew of court cases challenging the laws, which they say are unconstitutional.
Haniff Hoosen, an opposition Democratic Alliance lawmaker, said, “The new regulations have already ripped apart families, dissuaded investors, and led to the suspension and even cancellation of multimillion-rand film and tourism ventures.”
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