HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsZimbabwe@33 — Birth, redlining and citizenship

Zimbabwe@33 — Birth, redlining and citizenship

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In 1980, President Robert Mugabe said: “Independence will bestow on us a new personality, a new sovereignty, a new future and perspective, and indeed a new history and a new past.

Mutumwa On Tuesday with Mutumwa Mawere

Tomorrow we are being born again; born again not as individuals, but collectively as a people, nay, as a viable nation of Zimbabweans.”

In the same year, Tobaiwa Mudede, who happens to share the same birthday with me, was appointed the Registrar-General of Births and Deaths as well as Elections.  At the time, he was only 36 years old and now at 69, he can claim legitimately that he is the only black Registrar-General that post-colonial Zimbabwe knows.

Both Mugabe and Mudede are Zanu PF members and come from Zvimba. They have also been at the helm of their respective institutions since independence.

A person who decides who is and who is not citizen is an important person in any jurisdiction.  Mudede also has a say on who can and cannot vote.

This is as it should be and when the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, of the outgoing inclusive administration uses any platform that he can get to push for reforms that are meant to establish a new Zimbabwean personality, it is often easy and convenient to dismiss such attempts as motivated solely by ulterior motives.

To what extent has the voice of the millions of Zimbabweans who voted for the new constitution to be put in place been translated into changed attitudes and perspectives? The proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

So when I made a decision to establish my citizenship in anticipation of the operation of the new Constitution as well as to expose the absurdity of the current citizenship laws, I knew that my name had already been redlined given the political atmosphere that I find my name in. On Friday May 17, 2013, I arrived at the Registrar’s office seeking to obtain an identity card (ID).

I met with Ms Madhumu of the Central Registry Office who told me that I needed an original birth certificate.  I then proceeded to obtain one and then with that commenced the process of applying for such a document that is in any event required if one were to decide to register to vote.

The application was then processed and I was referred to Mrs Chirove at the Citizenship Office who immediately asked me for my South African passport.
She already had details of my South African passport suggesting that my citizenship issue has already been a subject of discussions in the office.  She also asked whether I had a Zimbabwean passport.  I told her that I had one that already had expired, but was issued before I acquired South African citizenship.

She requested to have copies of my South African and Zimbabwean passports made as well as a copy of my birth certificate.  This was done.  She then requested me to come in the afternoon at 14:45 as she needed to check on my citizenship status.
When I came back to Mrs Chirove’s office, I was advised that Mudede wanted to see me before the application could be processed.

I then met with Mudede who informed me that I was not eligible for Zimbabwean citizenship on account of the fact that I voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a foreign State and, in this case, a Sadc member in the name of South Africa. I knew that my attempt to establish Zimbabwean citizenship in the manner I chose would have wide-ranging implications for high-profile Zimbabwean-born persons who are perceived to be enemies of the State who are citizens of foreign States.

I use the words “high profile” deliberately because ordinarily it would be impossible for the Registrar-General to be personally seized with citizenship matters of all Zimbabwean-born persons who are citizens of other States.
The Zimbabwean Citizenship Act deliberately has no provision for Zimbabwean-born persons renouncing their Zimbabwean citizenship when they voluntarily choose to acquire the citizenship of another State.

What the current law provides for is that a Zimbabwean-born person who chooses to acquire the citizenship of a foreign State forfeits the right to Zimbabwean citizenship.  Using this construction, no Zimbabwean who chooses to acquire the citizenship of a foreign State will not have to face the prospect of renouncing his or her Zimbabwean citizenship.

When Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba raised flag of my citizenship in the context of the party, United Movement for Democracy (UMD), I knew the context and context of the intervention.  In my case, I acquired South African citizenship in 2002.

It would be obvious to anyone, including Charamba and Mudede, that there is nothing that makes them more Zimbabwean than a person like me other than a law that was put in place for what can only be political reasons.

The fact that Zimbabweans voted in record numbers to change the Constitution and remove this citizenship absurdity speaks volumes about the evil intentions that informed the enactment of the law without the consent of the people of Zimbabwe. If the people of Zimbabwe thought that a law that would make a Zimbabwean-born person foreign in the country of birth made any rational sense, then surely there would have been no point in amending this aspect in the new Constitution.

What I was told by Mudede goes a long way towards exposing that he is not fit for the job that he is occupying and in particular he is not the right person to give life to the new Constitution.

The people of Zimbabwe have already spoken on citizenship and the least I would have expected from Mudede was that my application for the ID was premature as this could only be accommodated once the new Constitution has been signed and the appropriate legislation has been amended.

Instead, he told me that the new Constitution prohibits dual citizenship. In fact, he said that if I need any clarification, I must speak to Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa rather than the ministers he reports to.  He was adamant that I should first renounce my South African citizenship and then come back to Zimbabwe to first apply for permanent residence.

He was of the view that there is no way that I can establish my Zimbabwean citizenship without renouncing the South African citizenship.  I informed him that like Zimbabwe, South Africa does not require a citizen to renounce his citizenship before acquiring another and, therefore, it was absurd for him to ask for a legal impossibility.

He responded saying that there is a grace period that has been created to allow for such illegal renunciation. The more I asked questions, the more Mudede became emotional. He then walked out of the meeting stating that I should discuss my matter with Chinamasa.  I requested him to give me an official response to my application in writing, to which he flatly refused.

I genuinely thought that in light of the new Constitution that Mudede, whose reputation as partisan is well established, was a changed man who in the words of Mugabe was ready for a new future and a perspective that speaks to the values and principles that informed the liberation struggle.

I thought that Mudede and his principal, in this case Chinamasa, were born again not as individuals, but collectively as a people.

The often-made call for the people in the Diaspora to come back home and help with the development of the country is reduced to a joke by the actions of State actors who believe that Zimbabwe only belongs to Zanu PF people.

The viability of Zimbabwe will no doubt depend on its ability to live up to the promise of the new Constitution.

I have written to Mudede in the hope that the reforms that the Prime Minister is calling for will no doubt include the change of faces at the RG’s Office and, more significantly, the change of direction to allow the new voter registration to only commence once the issue of citizenship and the rights that flow therefrom are put in place and respected by State actors.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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