So near yet so far? Assessing the 90-day permit for Zimbabwean migrants as a remittances financial inclusion tool

This study was conducted by the Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion (Cenfri) on behalf of the FinMark Trust ( It was initiated in line with the FinMark Trust’s mandate, that is, to promote regional financial inclusion and integration within SADC.

One area where financial inclusion is particularly low, as highlighted by FinMark’s discussion document titled ‘Reviewing the policy framework for money transfers’ (Bester et al, 2009), is cross-border money transfers from South Africa to the rest of SADC. The available literature suggests that the bulk of money transfers from South Africa to other SADC countries are done informally (e.g. by people carrying cash or sending cash with a bus or cross-border taxi) due to restrictions within the formal financial sector[1].

This is particularly true of money transfers to Zimbabwe, as documented by Kerzner (2009)[2] in a FinMark study to investigate the remittance corridor between Johannesburg and Zimbabwe.  Since 2000, the economic deterioration and political situation in Zimbabwe saw the number of migrants rise exponentially. It is estimated that there are between two and three million Zimbabweans that live and work in South Africa (Makina, 2007, quoted in Kerzner, 2009).

Due to stringent South African visa and permit requirements many Zimbabweans up to 2009 entered South Africa without the requisite travel documents. Zimbabweans could only enter South Africa legally if they were in possession of a permit or visa as either a visitor, worker, permanent or temporary resident of the country. To obtain such permits or visas, one would make an application to the relevant South African High Commission.  This is often a lengthy and tedious process that involves the submission of numerous documents (see the discussion in Section 2, Box 1 for a list of the requirements). Many Zimbabweans found the cost and process of obtaining the required documents, including passports, to be prohibitive. As a result, many Zimbabweans entered (and still enter) the country illegally via border jumping or oMalayitsha[3] (cross border taxi drivers). Some enter the country legally using a visitor?s permit, but then remain in the country once this permit has expired. According to various statistics and reports quoted in press articles, up to 86% of Zimbabwean migrants are classified as undocumented.

[1] Access to the formal financial sector within South Africa for foreigners requires documentation such as  a passport and a visa. Most immigrants in South Africa do not have this documentation and hence cannot use formal channels to remit funds. Furthermore, formal money transfers are often found prohibitively expensive.
[2] ‘Cash and carry: understanding the Johannesburg Zimbabwe remittance corridor’. See bibliography for full reference.
[3] oMalayitsha are cross border taxis that are used to transport goods, particularly groceries and furniture, from South Africa to Zimbabwe. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they are often used to send goods under the radar of the Zimbabwean and South African Customs authorities to avoid paying duty. It is also alleged that they bribe South African immigration officials and use alternative routes to facilitate the illegal entry of Zimbabweans into South Africa.