It will allow them time to obtain passports, work or study permits, as well as other documents that will permit them to be in the country legitimately. But if they don't get them by the end of the year, they will be sent packing.
Migration experts and NGOs have slammed the move, calling it an endorsement of "a policy of mass deportation".
Briefing journalists yesterday, government spokesman Themba Maseko said the Cabinet "had approved the proposal to end the special dispensation for Zimbabweans".
"The special dispensation that was put in place during the political crisis in Zimbabwe was to allow free movement of Zimbabweans into the country to come live, study and start businesses here without requiring a permit," he said.
"But we believe some form of stability has returned to Zimbabwe and therefore all Zimbabweans will now be treated like any other foreign nationals."
The special dispensation was introduced in April 2009, just as Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was concluding his eight months as caretaker President.
It allowed Zimbabweans to obtain permits which granted them the right to stay in South Africa for six months, and the right to education, employment and healthcare in the country.
But the Cabinet's decision means that Zimbabweans living, working and studying in South Africa will have to apply for the necessary documentation from Zimbabwe and then apply to the South African Department of Home Affairs for work or study permits before the end of the year, or face deportation.
Maseko said there would be an amnesty for Zimbabweans who may have obtained South African identification documents fraudulently on condition that they return the fake IDs to home affairs and apply for legal documents.
Advocacy groups and immigration experts have slammed the Cabinet decision as short-sighted.
Duncan Breen, advocacy officer at the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, said the organisation "would be extremely concerned about any policy of mass deportation".
He said a permit which allows Zimbabwean migrants more flexibility between the countries would be more ideal.
"Internationally, what would be best would be some form of permit to enable people to go backward and forward. What that does is enable a greater number of people to remain in Zimbabwe," said Breen. (Timeslive)