Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has extended the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEP) for another six months.
According to Motsoaledi, the validity of the ZEP will be extended from 30 June to 31 December 2023.
The extension comes after the department had "approved thousands of waiver applications of the affected Zimbabwean nationals" and was "considering and approving waiver applications daily".
"This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of visa and waiver applications.
The Departmental Advisory Committee (DAC) led by Dr Cassius Lubisi is now dealing with the increased number of visa applications," Motsoaledi said.
The department, said Motsoaledi, has been receiving between 1 000 and 1 500 visa and waiver applications daily, and more officials have been deployed to assist in processing the applications.
The extension period will now end on 31 December 2023.
Under the extension, no holder of a valid ZEP may be arrested, ordered to depart the country or be detained for deportation for any reason related to them not having a valid exemption certificate.
The holder of a ZEP will be allowed to enter and exit South Africa, provided they comply with all entry or exit requirements.
ZEP holders would not be required to present an exemption permit or authorisation letter to remain in the country during the extension period, Motsoaledi said.
During the economic and political strife in Zimbabwe in 2008 and 2009, many of the country's citizens fled to South Africa. At the time, the South African government created a blanket exemption so that Zimbabweans could get permits to live and work legally.
The permits were effectively extended by creating another permit over the years, which has since become known as the ZEP.
More than 178 000 ZEP holders have been in South Africa for over a decade. In December 2021, Motsoaledi announced that the ZEP would not be renewed.
The special permits were due to expire in December 2022, but an initial six-month extension was granted to allow people to apply for other available visas.
Motsoaledi is expected to request that International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor issue a note verbale (a diplomatic communication from one government to another) to the Zimbabwean ambassador informing him of the extension.