Thats how it used to work and thats how its supposed to work. But government these days are full of drama.Just wanted to say this is very incorrect and your friends may be getting the wrong advice entirely. You don't need to leave the country to reapply for any permit. I have been renewing my spouses permit every 2 years for a long time. Not once has he ever had to leave the country. I've seen how both the work permits and living ones work. It also makes it easier too if you are with someone so those that have kids - doesn't make any sense.
My one friend got banned for 3 years. She applied about 3 years ago for an extension, 4 months come and gone and no reply. Then she visited them with all her papers. They took her papers and binned it. She got deported by Home Affairs. She got slapped with a 3 year ban. A friend had to shut her entire business in SA and retrench employees on her behalf. Madness.
Abroad an extension takes 1-2 weeks but in SA at the moment it can take months. Most with money just fly abroad and the mission renews it within a week and back they come again.
Spousal is a bit different. Because home affairs lost a case in the Constitutional court saying that you arent allowed to split up a happy couple. But other permits ie work is a headache.